It's a big deal for Charlotte's biggest swim meet -- the UltraSwim in uptown Charlotte -- that golden boy Michael Phelps has decided to compete here again this year.
It's not the first time Phelps has participated in the meet -- he's been here several times for it before. The UltraSwim has established a superb reputation in its 25-year history and has hosted more than 100 Olympians, including Phelps most recently in 2006.
This appearance in the May 14-17 meet will generate a lot more interest, though. Back in '06, Phelps hadn't won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, nor had he been photographed with a marijuana pipe in his hand, which is why he is currently serving a 3-month suspension from USA Swimming. (That photo was taken in Columbia, S.C., only about 90 minutes from where Phelps will be staying here -- but I'll bet he won't be taking any side trips to Gamecock-land this time).
I'm glad Phelps plans will make his 2009 debut here, although I don't know where they're going to put everybody. The Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center gets very crowded for the UltraSwim already, what with the hundreds of swimmers who compete and their entourages. If Phelps draws even a few hundred more people, the place could be seriously overrun. It's going to be quite a logistical challenge.
One final note: I was looking back at a story I wrote in 2006 when Phelps swam here at the same event. It included these paragraphs.
(From my 2006 Charlotte Observer story)
In November 2004, Phelps got pulled over in Maryland and was arrested for drunken driving. He would eventually plead guilty and be sentenced to 18 months of probation.
"I made a mistake and I admitted to it," Phelps said Friday after he swam one of his early morning heats. "I know what I did wasn't the right thing. But it's a part of my life now and something I have to accept. Hopefully, I can teach other kids not to make the same mistake that I did."
Phelps has made a number of speeches to youth groups since, urging them not to drink and drive. His sponsors have stuck by him.
Sounds kinda familiar, doesn't it?