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NEWS FEATURE Olympic great Phelps seeking more than victories at fifth Games By Derek Wilson, dpa

Europe
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With 18 golds in his collection of 22 Olympic medals, US swimmer Michael Phelps is one of the greatest-ever Olympians - but is now determined to enjoy what will likely be his last Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - American swimmer Michael Phelps is the most decorated summer Olympian of all time and could add more medals to his collection at Rio 2016 - but in his advanced years, he is also looking to enjoy what is likely to be his fifth and final Games.

Phelps‘ Olympic dream started as a 15-year-old at Sydney 2000, but it was in Athens 2004 that the gold rush began - with six victories. A scarcely believable eight came in Beijing before London brought four more, along with a handful of silver and bronze.

Such excellence came at a cost, with Phelps admitting at a news conference Wednesday that he was not always the most social at the Olympics, often keeping his headphones on when around the village to maintain focus.

But now 31 and back from a brief retirement, he is determined to meet and greet wherever possible.

"I was walking back from an interview this morning and he was walking past me, and I was like, ‘Hey, that‘s (tennis star Novak) Djokovic‘," Phelps said.

"You usually give each other the nod and the smile, but I was like ‘I‘m going to say hi," he added.

That was the story behind one of the greatest Olympians and one of the greatest tennis players of all time meeting. But their conversation, at least according to Phelps, turned out to be rather prosaic.

"We kind of ended up just talking," Phelps said. "We talked about the event schedule and when he was competing, when I was competing. Took a photo. Wished each other good luck, and walked away," said Phelps, a known tennis fan.

"He‘s super down to earth and easy to talk to," Phelps added. "Definitely a very talented athlete and someone who was fun to run into."

The newly open Phelps is likely to be one of the most in-demand athletes at the Olympic Village for chats and pictures, and it is something which is he now looking to embrace.

"I‘ve been able to enjoy life," he said of his comeback. "I‘ve been able to experience things that I took for granted in the past. This ride that I‘ve been on, I‘ll forever be thankful for."

Phelps‘ return to action hit a snag in 2015 when a drink-driving conviction saw him banned from the US team that went to the Kazan world championships, but he made no errors to secure his berth in 2016.

Qualified in the butterfly events, he is looking for a fourth consecutive gold over 100 metres and to regain his 200m crown from South African Chad Le Clos, who beat him down to silver in London 2012.

The 200m individual medley, won in 2008 and 2012, is another strong chance for gold, as are the relay races - where he could earn a medal just by swimming in the heats for a later victorious US, even if he doesn‘t participate in the final competition.

Whether or not he wins more medals, Phelps‘ legacy is more than secure and he will build on it further by being only the second swimmer to carry the American flag into the opening ceremony on Friday.

"For me to be able to have the opportunity to carry the flag for the United States in the opening ceremony is a dream come true," he said. "It‘s something I honestly never thought I‘d have the opportunity to do.

"When one of our staff members told me last night I was selected, I had the biggest smile on my face you could possibly find ... A little bit of emotion came over me, I probably shed some tears, just of joy.

"I think one thing that‘s super special about the Olympic Games is you have people from all over the world, different backgrounds, that come together for two weeks to compete on the coolest stage in sports."

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