When Michael Klim stepped off the plane in Sydney, a lone camera crew was waiting for him. Outside the terminal building he ran over to some journalists climbing into a cab. "Could I get a ride with you?" he asked, hopeful.
He might be the star of Australian swimming, but he can jolly well take a cab like everyone else. No banners. No fanfare. No ride...no need. A quick call on his portable phone, and he asked politely, "Would it be okay if you dropped me directly at the pool?"
Such easy-going simplicity is typical of Klim, and his refusal to "regard himself as one of the greats" is just one part of his recipe for success. He shies away from comparisons with his training mate Alex Popov, saying, "I'd prefer if we were great in our own events and people would stop comparing us. We're two different athletes; he's the best at what he does and I'd like to be the best at what I do.
"The first day (in Perth) was very difficult as there was obviously a lot of media attention. I wanted to try to get the team off to a good start, so I put a lot of pressure on myself."
In Sydney, his relief was evident, "That meet's over! The pressure is much less here..it's important for the whole World Cup, but I'm obviously not in the best shape."
While most athletes would balk at the idea of seven races in seven days, Klim, seemingly of iron, takes the high intensity like some would a multi-vitamin...hard to swallow on some days, but it keeps him at his best.
"The 100 fly brings out something good in me," he said. That something good was there in force for the 100 fly in Sydney, as Klim "paced it pretty well in the morning," and posed for a series of photographs shortly before bettering his world record in the final.
"I still don't feel great in the water," he admitted after his exploit, "but swimming fast is good. I pulled out of the 200 free here to concentrate specifically on the 100 fly."
And after a few weeks of "active rest," as coach Touretsky puts it, it will be back to what he calls his "measure."
"I'll keep the same intensity of racing schedule this year," he confirmed. After 130 races in 1997, he realizes better than anyone the enormity of this. But he's not afraid of burning out. "Obviously some people can't handle it, but it's something that works for me. I need that balance between racing and training."
And if there was no one at the airport, the 20-year-old celebrity was compensated when he arrived at the pool, where crowds of fans awaited him.
Throughout the competition he was solicited for autographs, young girls leaning over the edge of the bleachers to pass him a program and a pen.
"It's something we've got to give back to the public," he says. "We get a lot of support, so it doesn't bother me."