It turns out swimming miracle Michael Phelps can achieve almost anything. But there is one thing he is still struggling to overcome - learning Chinese.
Michael Phelps in the Beijing Olympic Village
"Learning Mandarin is even harder than winning eight gold medals in the pool," said the 23-year-old American. "It is the hardest thing I've ever tried in my life."
Phelps took French and German courses when he was in primary school, but the swimming ace said Chinese is much harder to learn.
"The language is so tough," he said. "I started taking some Chinese lessons after learning French and German. After a while I could speak a little and understand a little. But all the words, characters and pronunciations in Mandarin are so different. All of them are hard to manage."
Asked to speak some Mandarin during the interview, Phelps laughed and said: "My accent is not good. I don't want to embarrass myself."
Phelps will be back for the London Games in 2012, where he says he wants to train for some new events to try to vary his repertoire. His next major competition will be the World Championships in Rome in 2009.
But right now, he says, the thing he needs most after his record medal haul is a nice long break.
"I will take a vacation of my own next," he said. "I have been longing for it for a very long time."
And if he gets antsy during his time off, he can always practice his Mandarin tones.
American swimming prodigy Michael Phelps, who won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, talks with representatives of Olympic "champion" children selected from around the world by McDonald's, an Olympic sponsor, on Monday, August 18, 2008. Phelps shared his happiness over his gold medal run with these little representatives of the Golden Arches. [Photo: Xinhua]
(Xinhua News Agency August 20, 2008)