The U.S. men’s and women’s swimming team took to the stage like true superstars at a media press conference at the Main Press Center in Beijing on Wednesday.
In a smart move, the USOC first brought out the team’s two biggest stars – Michael Phelps and Dara Torres – so as not to keep the duo from monopolizing the questions from reporters.
The greatest laugh of the conference came when Access Hollywood’s own Billy Bush asked Phelps a parituclarly pointed question:
“We’ve all learned by now that the LZR swimsuit can make you faster. Michael, have you managed to calculate how much the Fu Manchu makes you slower?”
“I haven’t, no,” he responded, laughing.
“I’ve had facial hair leading into a few of my meets over the last year, so I’m just messing around with my facial hair.”
It was like a pressure release valve had been hit in an auditorium filled with international press, all wanting to know if Phelps thinks he can become the first man to win 8 gold medals in a single Olympic Games.
“But, I don’t have any,” his teammate, Dara, was quick to chime in.
“From a woman’s perspective,” Billy asked Dara, “Do you like Michael better with the Fu Manchu, or without?”
“She’s my mom,” Michael chimed in. “She has to like me both ways.”
“I have to like him no matter what,” she agreed.
At age 41, Dara certainly could be the matriarch of the team, that is, if she wasn’t competing in a U.S. swimming record 5th Olympic Games.
When asked by a reporter, “How does it feel to be the face of female, 40 and fierce?”, she replied with quite the witty retort.
“You sound like you’re from Glamour Magazine. I’m a little embarrassed. He can attest I don’t act 40, so, it’s a great feeling to go out there at my age and to be doing what I’m doing and, uh, it’s been wonderful… the feedback I’ve been getting.”
You know, I used to have kids come up to me and ask for autographs, but now I find adults coming up to me, and actually, not asking for autographs, but talking to me and having long conversations and hearing about, you know, how they’ve been inspired.”
After reporters finished with Michael and Dara, it was the other swimmers’ turn: the duo was replaced on stage by teammates Aaron Peirsol, Ryan Lochte, Brendan Hansen, Katie Hoff, Eric Shanteau, and Natalie Coughlin.
Questions ranged from Eric’s cancer diagnosis, to the scandal surrounding U.S. swimmer Jessica Hardy’s exclusion from the games on doping charges.
“How do you get through?” a reporter asked Eric.
“A positive attitude and knowing that I’m going to beat this,” he replied.
When asked about Hardy, Natalie acknowledged that, “It’s not a good situation for anyone involved.”
But, she continued, “There’s a reason we have this (drug testing) system, and we have to faith in it working.”
Team co-captain Brendan was asked about his disappointing 4th-place finish in the 200m breast at the Olympic trials in Omaha, but said that it was the encouraging response from his fans regarding his own positive reaction after the trials, that inspired him to keep going strong in Beijing.
Access spoke with Natalie individually after the press conference, and she shared the news with us that 2012 would likely be her last Olympic Games.
“I definitely won’t be competing in swimming when I’m 41,” she said, in deference to Dara. “It’s incredible what Dara’s done. When she was at her first Olympics, I was barely 2 years old. And I’m one of the older members of the team.”
And, everyone seemed to have an opinion about teammate Amanda Beard’s racy new naked ad for PETA.
When asked by Access what cause she’d go to such extreme measures for, Natalie discussed her participation with the Johnson & Johnson Arts School Program and the organization Right To Play.
“The Olympic Games has provided a great platform for some of these organizations, and I’ve just tried to involve myself and learn as much as possible,” Natalie said.
“There are also a number of Bay Area charities that I’ve been interested in, particularly the Edible Schoolyard, which is Alice Waters’… and it’s for young children learning to eat well and learning to take care of themselves. So those kinds of things are close to my heart; child obesity and stuff like that.”
As for Ryan’s reaction to Amanda’s sexy photo?… That fun response is coming up on Access Hollywood on Thursday.