ORLANDO—Fourteen-time Olympic gold medalist and SeaWorld main attraction Michael Phelps returned to his seven-million-gallon water tank Wednesday to resume his normal schedule of performing in six shows a day for marine park crowds every day of the week.
Phelps, the 6'4", 200-pound aquatic mammal, and the first ever SeaWorld swimmer to be raised in captivity by foster swimmers (Mark Spitz and Dara Torres), was recaptured by trainer Bob Bowman in a hoop net baited with an entire Dutch apple pie following Phelps' final Olympic event last Sunday. Phelps was then tethered to the rudder of a container ship bound for St. Petersburg, guided down local waterways, and introduced back into his home habitat, the tank in SeaWorld's 5,500 seat stadium, known to park officials and visitors alike as "Phelps' Happy Harbor."
"Michael seemed really excited to be back," said Bowman, adding that the male swimmer became playful upon entering his tank, breaching the water and sounding repeatedly. "He just started swimming freestyle and backstroke, and only stopped to slide belly first onto the tank's platform so he could be fed dozens of fried egg sandwiches."
"He fell asleep at the surface of the water around midnight," Bowman added.
Though Bowman plans on continuing the long-running aquatic show "Michael, The Yankee Doodle Swim Team Captain," in which Phelps was performing prior to leaving for Beijing, Bowman said he and Phelps would begin working on an all-new production, which will debut in September with the title "Champion!" Bowman has promised this show would be the most ambitious program in the history of Olympic swimmer sea spectacles.
Bowman says one stunt called the "Flying Medal" will begin with Phelps' 14 gold medals being suspended above the water. Phelps will then enter the stadium butterfly-stroking at full speed, coursing along the surface, and with every breach of the water, placing his head through the hoop of one medal after another. If Phelps is wearing all 14 medals at the end of the stunt, Bowman said, the swimmer will be rewarded with a whole pizza and a pound of cooked enriched pasta.
Bowman confirmed that the routine would also feature the signature aquatic feats that audiences from around the world have come to expect from Phelps, such as his trademark trick of 35 flip turns in 35 seconds, nuzzling a child with his nose, and Bowman himself "surfing" on Phelps' back while the subservient sea creature swims the breaststroke.
"Those seated in the first 14 rows should be prepared to get soaked," Bowman said, admitting that Phelps' powerful dolphin kicks would be added to the new program. "Also, Michael's two friends, [Olympic swimmers] Ryan [Lochte] and Jason [Lezak], will open the show with their humorous beach ball antics."
Beginning with the 1985's "Baby Michael Celebration," Phelps has entertained SeaWorld audiences for over 20 years. Spectators are not only enthralled with Phelps' exploits in the water, but his abnormally large torso, unusually small lower body, double-jointed ankles, gargantuan eating habits, the slurring, almost human methods of vocalization he uses to communicate, and his odd-looking goggle-covered face, all of which combine to make him the most unusual sight in all of Florida.
"I have never seen a stranger yet more majestic-looking creature," said husband and father of three Glenn McKay. "Last year we went to SeaWorld San Diego and saw [Michael's female counterpart] Michelle, and even though the show was a little funnier than this one, nothing compares to watching Michael almost hover over the water after launching his trainer into the air."
"Michelle" is SeaWorld's moniker for the Olympic gold medalist who was born Natalie Coughlin.
"I liked it when he played dead and floated in the water," added McKay's 8-year-old son Brandon, who was clutching a Michael Phelps stuffed doll. "I also liked when he blew water on everyone."
Though spectators—and ticket-sales personnel—are happy that Phelps is back at SeaWorld, members of the World Society for the Conservation of Olympic Swimmers released a statement yesterday saying that these athletic mammals should be released from captivity. The statement claims that there is conclusive scientific proof that confinement in smaller pools of water, as opposed to wide-open, Olympic-sized pools, causes the swimmers sensory depravation and a shorter lifespan.
"It's clear that Michael doesn't like being at SeaWorld," WSCOS spokesperson Jonathan Haines said. "When he was placed back into his tank, the slightly loose portion of his black swim cap immediately folded over to the right side, a telltale symptom of stress and angst. And you can be certain that, just before he left for Beijing, he didn't bite that little girl's arm off because he was happy."