Michael Phelps hated to be taunted when he was young and hated to lose as he grew up.
The 23-year-old American has put the swimming world under his feet. With 11 Olympic gold medals, he is the most decorated Olympian in the world.
On Wednesday, before the 200m butterfly race started, Phelps unplugged his earphones, took off his sports jacket, and stretched his legs and arms, doing what he needs to do before any race.
The spectators cheered, and, as usual, he remained unfazed. Phelps was the first one to stand by the starting block. When he emerged from the water, he has rewritten both the record book and the Olympic history.
About an hour later, Phelps headed another record-breaking race in the 4X200 freestyle relay which even stunned the country's best athletes, including basketball player Kobe Bryant.
Before Wednesday, he had to share the nine-Olympic-gold club with predecessor Mark Spitz, American track and field star Carl Lewis, former Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina and Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi. Now, Phelps is in his own league.
Raised in a single-parent family in Baltimore, Phelps, the youngest, followed his two sisters into swimming. Water was the best refuge for the youngman, especially when his playmates picked upon his big ears. With a perfect physique for swimming, Phelps quickly turned his fondness of water to his power.
"Growing up, I always wanted to be an Olympian," he told reporters. In his hometown, he trained with coach Bob Bowman, whom he said is "intelligent in the sport and on top of everything". He trained seven days a week when others only trained for six days.
In 2000, Phelps made his Olympic debut as the youngest athlete on the U.S. team and placed fifth in the 200m butterfly. Months later, he set a new best in the event as the youngest man to break a world record. Since then, he began his evolution into the greatest swimmer on earth.
Phelps came to Beijing as a star: he won six gold medals and two bronzes in Athens, and seven golds in the Melbourne World Championships last year.
Asked about how he managed to get on top of the sport, Phelps said it was just "working out and practice". "We spend a lot of time on kicking EVERY single day," he said. Phelps is a master of the underwater dolphin kicks, which reduce resistance and push swimmers ahead like a submarine.
"The underwater kicks are Phelps' weapon," said former Chinese swimming head coach Chen Yunpeng, "it's like the fifth kick besides the regular swim styles, but only more powerful."
"Phelps has great kicks. I can copy him but I couldn't be as good," said South Korean Park Taehwan, winner of the 400 free gold and 200 free silver.
Schedueld to swim 17 races in Beijing, Phelps is not afraid to be overburdened. "I conserved my energy throughout the whole meet, whether it was seven, eight or nine days. I think that's probably the biggest thing I've learnt in the last four years to be able to conserve my energy," he said.
As a veteran swimmer, Phelps is also able to pull off something as great when the environment goes against him. In the 200m butterfly and 4X200 free, he swam a broken goggle which blinded his sight, but still managed to win with new world records.
"When my goggles started to fall off, there was nothing I can do. I can just swim. I couldn't take them off, because I had two caps on. I couldn't reap them off. I just swim," he shrugged as he recounted the process.