NEW YORK, November 7. AMERICAN teenage swim phenom, Michael Phelps, signed a six-year, multimillion dollar contract with swim suit manufacturer Speedo, it was announced in New York yesterday in a telephone news conference.
The contract is believed to be the largest ever signed by a professional swimmer, surpassing the estimated AUS$4 million (US$2.0 million at the time) deal Australian Ian Thorpe inked with adidas.
While Speedo refused to divulge the exact terms of the deal, informed sources within Speedo indicated it included a base salary of "more than $300,000 per year" — possibly, significantly more — plus numerous lucrative performance bonuses.
The most striking of these is a US$ 1 million bonus if Phelps equals Mark Spitz's seven gold medal performance. At the 1972 Olympic Games, Spitz won the 100 and 200 meter freestyle, 100 and 200 meter butterfly and swam on all three winning US relays. All of his swims were world records.
The new contract, which goes through 2009, provides for Michael to serve as a product development advisor also includes support for Phelps' college education. In addition, it establishes a "two-tier" structure of rewards for Phelps' longtime coach, Bob Bowman, who was named "Coach of the Year" for 2003 by the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) and USA Swimming. Bowman has been one of Speedo's 36 coach advisors for years, but the new contract establishes bonuses for him based on Phelps' accomplishments.
This year, Phelps, 18, broke eight world records in four different events in an astonishing display of speed and versatility.
Asked how likely it is that Phelps might win seven gold medals in Athens next summer, Speedo Vice President Stu Isaac commented: "No one believed Mark could do it in '72. Except Mark. He believed he could do it in '72…and '68. Michael has achieved unprecedented things in swimming, but realistically, for him to equal Spitz, the US would have to win all three relays, and we haven't won the two freestyle relays for several Olympiads now."
Phelps commented; "It's a challenge and incentive, and I like challenges and incentives. I welcome them. But there's no way of telling if I can do it (win seven gold). I can only control what I do. If I swim a personal best but Ian Crocker comes along and beats me, I've done all I can do."
At the World Championships in Barcelona in July, Phelps destroyed the 100 meter butterfly world record in 51.10 seconds but was out-touched by US teammate Ian Crocker, who took the gold — and the world record — in 50.98 seconds.
Phelps is the world record-holder in the 200 meter butterfly, 200 meter individual medley, and the 400 meter individual medley. He ranks second in the world in the 100 meter butterfly, 200 meter freestyle and 200 meter backstroke. At the FINA World Championships, he broke five individual world records – the first person ever to accomplish this feat at a single international meet – and seven American records on his way to three gold medals and two silver medals.
At 15, Phelps became the youngest male swimmer to qualify for the American Olympic team since 1932, when he earned a trip to the 2000 Sydney Games. He was also the youngest male swimmer to break a world record and the youngest United States male swimmer to turn professional.