Olympic icon Michael Phelps splashed down in the city on Thursday – and left a trail of spellbound school-aged swimmers in his wake.
“I was speechless,” Valentina Monroy, 16, said moments after she received a pep talk from the human fish at the YMCA of Greater New York. “It was amazing.”
The 23-year-old aquatic maestro’s every movement inside the Y’s pool brought choruses of “oohs” and “ahs” from the children in the water and the buoyant crowd gathered above.
After diving in and swimming nearly its length underwater, Phelps, the 14-time gold medalist, spoke to a group of the pint-sized swimmers.
“Meeting him was like waking up from a dream and finding out it’s real,” Erica Flear, 9.
The Manhattan girl said Phelps imparted two important lessons to her and her fellow swimmers.
“Try to hold your breath as much as possible and don’t give up,” she said.
Phelps appeared at the YMCA on W. 14th St. before a phalanx of TV cameras to present a $20,000 check from Visa to support youth swimming programs.
The winner of a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics said he was anxious over his upcoming appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” He’s hosting the show Sept. 13.
“I hope I’m literally not a fish out of water in that one,” Phelps said, noting that his friends would be in the audience to provide the laughs, if no one else did.
Phelps, who said the past week has been a whirlwind, finally reached American soil on Wednesday, more than a week after his record-shattering performance in Beijing. He said he appeared with Tiger Woods at a golf promotional event Wednesday night, but one of the highlights of his New York tour has been the city’s hot-dog stands.
The man known to consume 12,000 calories a day happily scarfed down a dog and pretzel shortly after arriving in the Big Apple.
Asked who would win in a race against Mark Spitz, the American swimmer whose record of seven gold medals he shattered, Phelps said it’s tough to predict.
“I have no idea what would happen,” Phelps said. “It would definitely be fun to race each other at our peak. It would definitely be an interesting race.”
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