Olympic gold medal swimmer Diana Munz is watching the Beijing Summer Olympics from her home on TV, just like the rest of us. What's different from the rest of us is that this is the first time since she was 13 (1996) that Diana has watched the Olympics because she was busy competing in the last two Summer Olympics (Sydney and Athens).
Usually by the time Diana returned home from competing, the Olympic uproar had subsided a bit. There was still conversation, especially among her many supporters, but the excitement of Olympic Fever had calmed down.
This year is different. She is experiencing all of the excitement and has a good case of "The Fever" herself. It doesn't hurt any that her sport is the highlight of the Summer Games, this year more than any.
There is no question in her mind that the accomplishments of Michael Phelps will bring more and more young people to competitive swimming and she is very happy about that.
"Even young girls want to be like Michael Phelps. Usually girls have female role models and boys have male. Not this time. Everybody's idol is Michael Phelps. I give him so much credit for what he accomplished but also what he is doing for the sport. He is unbelievable."
There has been much talk about the venue - The Water Cube and the optimum setting it provided. There was also much talk about the new high-tech Speedo LZR Racers the swimmers were wearing. Diana finds the new suits to be just part of the advancement of the sport.
"Look at Michael Spitz. He was a great athlete at the time. But look how he dressed and wore no cap at all. No swimmer would do that today."
She explains that Olympic pools are always going to be designed to be "fast". This is a combination of many technical issues. If the pool is too deep or too shallow, or the water is too cold or too warm, it makes a difference in the "speed" of the pool.
Lane lines also play a part in the pools speed. As water drags the lines or waves go over them, it affects the water. We heard commentators refer to the outside lanes as "calm", something that the layman's eye would not notice.
"Swimming in a fast pool or having the latest technology in a suit is mentally good. It makes you 'feel' faster. Michael Phelps likes the middle lane and so do I."
For Diana, she likes to be able to see where everybody else is, even though coaches will tell you not to look. "The coach will always tell you to swim your own race and not pay attention to what anybody else is doing." In reality, though, Diana always looked and thinks probably most swimmers do.
There is no doubt in her mind that Michael Phelps is the most phenomenal athlete - ever. For some competitors just the word "Olympics" brings on feelings of fear. For him it brings inspiration.
As a young athlete stands poised and waiting for the signal to proceed Diana says, "Everything goes through your head." She says you think of all the people who are counting on you all of the expectations. You think of all the preparations you have made and hope it was enough. "Add to all that pressure the fact that you are representing your country!"
Diana always tried to focus just on the positive. She knew she ate correctly. She did her warm ups and her Dry Land exercises. She was as prepared as she could be. She gives Michael Phelps a lot of credit for being able to block out all of the press, expectations and pressures that were placed on him.
Phelps swam some of his meets with as little as 4 minutes in between. Diana says in some ways it is a positive thing. He is used to this kind of back-to-back competition more than most people and it gave him less time to think about the pressure of his next meet. On the other hand, the exhaustion and tiredness is so intense a lesser athlete could have been negatively effected.
Dara Torres lost the gold in a race by 1/100 of a second. Michael Phelps won the gold by the same amount. Diana tells us "Every swimmer in timed competition has something that close. It is positive in a way; there is an awesome wind of relief that comes over you. On the negative side, you wonder 'what did I do wrong?' 'Did I lift my head?'"
In the case of Michael Phelps she says he and Serbia's Milorad Cavic both had "horrible finishes" "But" she says, "Michael Phelps' momentum was enough. It came down to which one did a better bad finish."
Although she is not one to scream at the television as the race proceeds, she is none-the-less 100% into it. "Not literally of course, but I almost feel as exhausted as they do when they're done because I know what they are feeling. The last 10 meters of a race are by far the hardest and it really is exhausting."
Diana sees the sport changing - and for the better. "When Michael Phelps started competing in 2004 the sport was beginning to change. He said he is trying to be the Tiger Woods of swimming and he is doing it. He is making people aware of the sport."
She has noticed the trend to older athletes competing and things the trend will continue for awhile, but not permanently. Many of the athletes left at early ages because they could not train the way they did when they were younger, but they are discovering that they don't have to train the same way.
"Everybody wants to beat the Australians," says Diana but not in a negative way. "They are always strong competitors." She was surprised by the Australian team this year because she saw no powerhouse performances. Italy in the other hand surprised her in a more positive way.
In general, she thinks the women's team did a "decent" job. "Dara did phenomenal; Natalie did pretty well for her races. Rebecca did an unbelievable job in the breast stroke. I think the relays could have been stronger though."
There were many competitors that would have really shined had this not been the "Year of Michael Phelps" and that is a difficult place for an athlete to be.
Diana says, "If Michael Phelps were a woman and coming into my competition my first reaction would be a little bitter because I wouldn't want him to take over my events. I want to keep winning my events. On the other hand, it is an inspiration because if I were able to beat him that would be outstanding!"
She expects to see Katie Hoff making a major come back in London in 2012. "I think she just had too much on her plate this time. She's been on top for the last 4 years and I think she was trying to be the female Michael Phelps. Look for her to be strong in 2012."
One may hear "trash talk" or taunting in other sports, but seldom in swimming. In most cases, by the time they get to this level, the swimmers have competed against each other multiple times and there is usually a friendly atmosphere.
This years Italian/Australian men's relay was a notable exception with an "obvious attempt to start a fight in the water." The French also vowed to "smash the Americans". This only served to "fire up" the Americans.
The swimmers are in The Ready Room prior to the races and are usually talking amongst themselves or wearing headphones to block everything out. Once a competition is over, you will often see an athlete from another country congratulate a winner - something you don't see in many sports.
"Everybody is truly there for the competition of the sport and I love seeing that. Like that wrestler who threw his medal down - you won't see that in swimming."
It could be that swimming is a timed sport - there is no subjectivity to it. "The clock never lies." So the final is what it is, where as in a more subjectively judged sport people may feel they have been slighted.
Diana says she would "Recommend swimming for any kid. It is a friendly and positive environment."
Looking back to her own team members Diana is certainly aware that fellow gold medal winner, Amanda Beard has posed for Playboy and appeared naked in a PETA ad. She says "We were very good friends with swim meets and competitions etc. I don't agree with how she's presenting herself - she is going in a different direction. Kids look up to her because of what she did and at such a young age- and she puts herself out there like that. It's not the way an athlete should do that; not the way I would."
These days she's busy doing the Olympic Zone coverage for WKYC and commercials for Key Bank and Metro Toyota. She loves being married and says, "It's crazy that it's almost two years already. I just couldn't ask for anything more".
She still tries to swim for fun and exercise and gives private lessons from time to time, but no longer swims competitively.
Swimming competitions are over, but the Olympics are not. Diana finds herself watching gymnastics and beach volleyball and planning for the biggest event of her life. She and husband, Palmer DePetro, are expecting their first child, a daughter, in November.