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Where's Michael? The search for an international Olympic star

Swimmers train in the 50-meter pool at North Shore Aquatic Center in St. Petersburg on Thursday morning. Michael Phelps was training in the facility's smaller pool nearby.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Swimmers train in the 50-meter pool at North Shore Aquatic Center in St. Petersburg on Thursday morning. Michael Phelps was training in the facility's smaller pool nearby.

It's not every day that the most-decorated Olympian in history is working out just down the street.

Me, I had no idea Michael Phelps was even in town.

I was looking for a weather photo on Treasure Island when my cellphone rang early Thursday morning.

"Michael Phelps is at North Shore Pool, training with other Olympians," a colleague said.

I was on my way.

At the pool, I introduced myself to the girl behind the window at the front desk. I asked if Michael Phelps was at the pool and whether I could take his picture.

"The pool is closed to the public," she responded.

In fact, it was not yet 9 a.m., when the pool opens to the public.

Within a couple minutes, I was inside and looking for an international superstar.

One problem:

Inside the pool were about 100 swimmers, all seemingly wearing bathing caps and looking very much like each other.

Which one is Michael?

I looked up in the stands and saw Tampa Bay Times reporter Claire Wiseman. She had the same question.

Which one is Michael?

A man wearing a St. Petersburg hat, noticing all my camera equipment, walked up and said Michael wasn't in that pool. He was in a smaller pool around the corner.

I walked around a plastic barrier and into the smaller pool's area.

A group of young men standing by the pool saw my camera and approached.

"Michael's out of the pool and done swimming," one of them said.

"Can I talk to Michael?" I asked.

They all looked at the ground. Not a word.

Thirty seconds later Michael Phelps walked around the corner, dressed in street clothes and ball cap to shield him from the light rain.

"Hello. I'm Michael Phelps," he said, extending his hand and shaking mine. He could not have been more polite.

I introduced myself and told him I would like to get a picture of his swimming or on the deck.

"All photos must go through my agent. That's the way I've always done it," he said. He wasn't brusque or short.

Phelps then walked a few steps and quickly was enveloped by a group of other swimmers.

A few minutes later, Phelps and another man walked out a side entrance and headed toward a car.

Me, I walked out the front exit about five minutes later, followed by a group of swimmers.

It was still raining.

Where's Michael? The search for an international Olympic star 01/09/14 [Last modified: Thursday, January 9, 2014 2:17pm]
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