Camden News
Publications by New Journal Enterprises
  Home Archive Competition Jobs Tickets Accommodation Dating Contact us
Camden News - by TOM FOOT
Published: 28 August 2008

Above and right: Michael Phelps poses on the board in Highgate Men’s Pond while onlookers and Times’ journalists snap photos
Baltimore Bullet trades Beijing for a morning in our ‘malarial marsh’

Michael Phelps visits Men’s Pond, but doesn’t break any records for autograph signing

AS the proclaimed “greatest ever Olympian”, swimmer Michael Phelps is accustomed to pristine lengths of clear blue water.
As a former malarial marsh, the Highgate Men’s Pond is more au fait with middle-aged belly flops and the undersides of ducks.
So it should have come as little surprise when Mr Phelps visited the Hampstead Heath spot on Monday that while an amphibious American can be lead to pond water, he cannot be made to swim in it.
Mr Phelps, 22, the winner of a record-breaking eight gold medals at this year’s Olympics, made his Men’s Pond debut on a typically grey bank holiday morning amid Beijing-style security for a Times newspaper photo-shoot.
But whether it was a belated attack of nerves or his famous high-calorie breakfast of five-egg omelettes, a bowl of porridge and two bacon and mayonnaise sandwiches, Mr Phelps looked distinctly like a fish out of water.
While a handful of trenchant swimmers chatted in the men’s pond changing rooms, unaware that greatness was in their midst, Mr Phelps was apparently battling an upset stomach in the lifeguard’s toilet.
Paul Maskill, the Heath’s leisure manager, said: “He wasn’t very well at all. He was throwing up in the loo quite a lot before hand. I think that’s why he seemed a bit quiet. He certainly wasn’t his normal gregarious self.”
Two days earlier the all-conquering American, who has a £1million Speedo endorsement, became the world’s greatest-ever Olympian by spending as little time as possible in the Beijing pool.
On Monday, a queasy Phelps repeated the trick in Highgate with a true “in and out” performance that left local swimmers and adoring fans a little miffed.
“He’s not here for you,” Phelps’ agent told the New Journal, as he rushed the prize asset from the diving board. A bodyguard scoured the hedges and water-bank for any hint of disruption.
Mr Phelps stood shakily on the diving board – at one point a gust of wind almost blew him in. His agent could be heard muttering about the “bloody British summer”.
The 15-minute event passed in almost perfect silence until one woman piped up and offered the swimmer some congratulations.
“Well done, Michael”, she said.
“Give us a wave, Phelpsy,” said one lifeguard.
Phelps managed a borderline smile at this point, as he rushed past his fans to the safety of the toilet.
A growing crowd, including around four young children with autograph books and a gaggle of girls clutching camera phones, waited outside for their hero. They waited, and waited, only to discover he had been whisked away through a back door.
“He didn’t sign my book,” one disappointed little girl told her dad.
“I would have thought he would be a giant, but he was pretty tiny really,” she said.
Even so, he did make an impression.
Mr Maskill said: “He did sign a few autographs for the lifeguards and he took a Highgate ponds lifeguards T-shirt from us. I said he was an official life-guard now. He did seem genuinely interested in the ponds and the Heath.
“He’s quite a gentle character, very understated. It was a real honour to have him here. We are talking about an eight times world champion coming to the pond a day after the Olympics ended – I doubt that will ever happen again. I look forward to seeing him again in four years time.”

Comment on this article.
(You must supply your full name and email address for your comment to be published)





Your comments:

If traders have been warned about the consequences and still ignored them in this way they should be named and shamed. It's disgraceful.
Georgina Parry


Theatre Music
Arts & Events Attractions