LONDON -- It is among the greatest honors an Olympian can have: being chosen by your peers to carry your country’s flag in the opening ceremony.
Yet, before the U.S. team captains meet Thursday to select the flag bearer, the man with the most gold medals in Olympic history has removed himself from consideration.
It is not that Michael Phelps disdains his country. Rather, with his first event scheduled Saturday morning, Phelps said he has no plans to attend an opening ceremony that could last until midnight Friday.
“One of things that is very tough for swimmers that swim in the first couple of days is that we never go to opening ceremonies, just because you are standing for so many hours,” Phelps said Wednesday. “Being on your feet for five or six hours takes a lot out of you. It does take days to recover after that.
“So that is one of the downfalls swimmers have about competing early in the Olympics. But I kind of like going first. We do end up watching most of it on TV, until we end up falling asleep.”
Phelps has 14 career gold medals; no one else has more than nine. He has 16 total medals, two shy of the record set by Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina from 1956-64.
Phelps said he had not heard of Latynina before the last year and said he did not wish to embrace any comparisons.
“I want to be the first Michael Phelps,” he said.
Yet Phelps and Latynina, now 77, did meet in New York in March. She plans to attend the London Games and perhaps participate in the medal ceremony if Phelps breaks her record, according to Sports Illustrated.
“He is a great champion and I’m a huge admirer of his great talent,” Latynina said. “I just enjoy watching him swim.”
The swimming competition extends through the first week of the Olympics. After that, Phelps said, he might like to watch some men’s basketball and women’s soccer. He laughed at the question of whether he could play soccer.
“I can’t do anything on land,” he said.