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Phelps sat undisturbed in a commuter car as he fiddled around on a laptop with a Wi-Fi card, and upon arriving in New York he made his way through Penn Station and flagged down a yellow cab on the street without a single autograph request, a 21st-century Mr. The Goggles began with a rousing Olympic highlights package shown on huge screens at the front of the ballroom.
"To this day I'm not sure the magnitude of what happened over there has hit me," says Phelps, and here was another chance to relive it.
As a spectator sport swimming has always resided in the margins, and even during the Olympics it is often overshadowed by gymnastics and track.
But in China, Phelps turned his every race into can't-miss television.
Phelps is undeniably a superstar now, but it is in the vein -- an unassuming everyman with whom others feel a strong kinship.
Despite the surrounding bedlam Phelps, in a custom-made Armani tux, seemed to glide effortlessly through the throng, accommodating as many fans as possible between stops to warmly embrace his Olympic teammates.
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Finally, an escalating buzz turned into a low roar, announcing the belated arrival of Four beefy security guards couldn't hold off the crowd that instantly engulfed the 23-year-old Phelps.
The party of the year in the swimming world took place not in Beijing's Water Cube in August but in a New York City hotel ballroom the week before Thanksgiving.
The occasion was the Golden Goggle Awards, the Oscars of the amphibious set, and most of the 43 members of the U. Olympic swim team turned out for the splashy event.
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That never happens anymore." No sooner had the awards program ended than a mob of Sharpie- and camera-phone-wielding guests encircled Phelps, knowing this was their last chance to take home a piece of him.