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Michael Phelps takes on vocal leader role in Australia

Aug 19, 2014, 3:06 PM EDT

Michael Phelps Getty Images

Hello, my name is Michael Phelps.

The most decorated Olympian of all time is taking a different dryland approach for his first international swimming competition since the London Olympics at the Pan Pacific Championships in Gold Coast, Australia, this week.

“I’m trying to make it more of a point to talk to everybody [swimmers on the U.S. team],” Phelps told reporters at a training camp in Brisbane. “People I don’t know, I’m trying to introduce myself.”

Phelps, 29, said the weirdest part of being with the U.S. team of 60 swimmers at the year’s biggest meet is all the new faces. He doesn’t recognize some of them.

“I’m asking some of the guys who this person is, who that person is,” Phelps said. “It’s great to see the team change and see a lot of younger kids here that are super excited.”

Phelps, known for playing copious games of spades on these types of trips, said he usually keeps to himself. Not this time. One of his longest-tenured teammates has noticed.

“You see, actually, a big change in him, not only as a swimmer, as a human being,” Ryan Lochte told reporters in Brisbane. “He’s taking his time outside the pool to help the other kids, teaching them things that he learned growing up as a swimmer.”

And the feedback from the younger swimmers?

“They really don’t ask many questions,” Phelps said.

Phelps actually isn’t the oldest man on the U.S. team, nor the second-oldest. Lochte is 30, and the elder statesman is Anthony Ervin, 33, who swam at the 2000 Olympics in Australia. Phelps made his Olympic debut at Sydney 2000 as a 15-year-old.

“I still remember walking out in 2000,” for the 200m butterfly, Phelps said. “I literally think the floor was shaking. I was a little in shock.”

Phelps is slated for five events at Pan Pacs, which begin Thursday (NBC will have coverage Saturday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. ET and Sunday from 1-2:30). Two weeks ago, he failed to win any of his events at the U.S. Championships for the first time since 2000.

But all that was needed was to make the team for Pan Pacs, which he easily did. He can wrap up a spot on the 2015 World Championships team in Gold Coast.

“I did the job I needed to do at Nationals,” said Phelps, who has not yet committed to trying to make the 2016 Olympic team. “It’s all really a stepping stone because the biggest thing about this summer is getting on a team to hopefully propel me for next year and then move forward from there. Step one is complete, making this team.”

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