Olympics biggest stars take London by storm

MARC HINTON IN LONDON
Last updated 11:08 27/07/2012

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OPINION: Two huge stars, two cool dudes, two incredibly focused individuals.

That was the only conclusion you could draw after sitting through back-to-back Olympic press conferences from two of the very biggest drawcards of these Games.

First there was American swimming sensation Michael Phelps, closely followed by Swiss tennis ace Roger Federer.

The only way it gets any bigger here is if Usain Bolt and LeBron James decide to go one-two up in the big room.

There were a lot of similarities between these two champions of their sports, and not just that they both went close to filling the 700-capacity main press conference room here at the Olympic Park. For the record Phelps drew the bigger turnout, but there was not a lot in it.

Both exhibited a laid-back attitude that only the truly blessed can manage at a time like this, yet both also revealed a competitive drive that has allowed them to dominate their sports.

Phelps has won 16 Olympic medals, 14 of them gold, and eight of those coming in one historic Games back in 2008.

Federer is fresh off his seventh Wimbledon title, taking him to 17 Grand Slam titles in all, though he has won just the one Olympic gold, coming in 2008 when he and Stan Wawrinka claimed the doubles crown.

Both are also incredibly adept at handling the pressures that go with facing a gaggle of international media probing for a headline comment.

Neither of these gifted individuals got where they are today by letting their guard down when the press have their pens poised.

So when Phelps was asked about comments from USA team-mate Tyler Clary alleging he only won these days because of talent, not work ethic, the tall American swatted the potential controversy aside with practised precision.

"Some people like to express their feelings in words, some like to express them in actions - I've always done that by swimming and that's how I'll continue," said Phelps.

"People can say whatever they want, I've gotten to where I am today by working hard, I know that, [coach] Bob [Bowman] knows that, and if nobody else thinks that it doesn't really matter."

For the record Phelps assured us there is no rift in this US team. Clary apologised, Phelps said he needn't have bothered. 

"I told him whatever you say, you say, we are team-mates and as Team USA we always go into competition as one and we leave it as one."

Phelps does not need a crowning glory at these Games, but don't be surprised if he delivers one at his competitive farewell. He certainly sounds ready to bow out in style.

He talked about being more relaxed this time, about being determined to have fun at his fourth Olympics. 

"This is the closure, it really is how many toppings do I want on my sundae," he said, in one of the more interesting sporting analogies.

"This is something I enjoy. It's kinda cool being able to walk through the village and seeing all the athletes from everywhere."

But Phelps is adamant he won't be defined by medals won or not at these Games.

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"You guys are the ones who keep bringing the medal count up, never once in my career have I said anything about it. I'm here to swim as fast as I can, and nothing else matters."

And then he said something that resonated right throughout the room.

"I just want to be the first Michael Phelps. That's what I've always wanted to do and what I'm going to continue to try to do."

The same self-confidence and steely determination was evident in Federer when he sat down at the same table an hour or so later.

They both threw on the charm.

Phelps started off taking pictures of the media taking pictures of him, and made a bit of a faux pas when he talked about American swim teams not indulging in trash talk before recalling the infamous "smash 'em like guitars" remark from Gary Hall Jnr in 2000.

Federer was his impossibly suave self as he spoke about a potential "dream" Wimbledon double of a first Olympic singles gold to go with the slam on his favourite grass surface.

But he admitted it wouldn't be easy at an event that was pretty unique for a tennis player.

"Coming back to a place I've been able to win so often, it does give me incredible confidence and an advantage over other players. We'll see how it goes, but the Olympics is a different tournament, a different atmosphere."

But everything about Federer suggested he was ready to overcome Djokovic and Murray and the rest of the rivals to the one significant achievement he has yet to tick off. 

He looks in a good head space, to match the fact that, for him, he's in as good a place as he can hope to play - his beloved Wimbledon.

Crowning glories await.

- Fairfax Media

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