BEIJING -- Michael Phelps is back where he made Olympic history.
Don't look for much swimming. This time, he's in Beijing to do TV commercials for automaker Mazda, which is reported to be paying him more than US$1 million to endorse the brand in China. It's believed to be the largest single sponsorship deal for a foreign celebrity in the country.
Besides filming commercials and doing photo shoots, Phelps is also slated to return to the Water Cube - where he won his record-eight gold medals at last August's games - before he leaves China.
"Hopefully I'll get a few workouts in before I go home," he said. "And then once I get back home it's time to get back in the water and really start to train for the next four years."
He's expected to resume serious training before the month ends, and is likely to work on some new events heading into this summer's world championships in Rome.
Guests should not expect to catch a glimpse of Phelps in the hotel pool.
"The pool at the hotel is closed right now, so I can't swim," Phelps said.
Phelps said returning to China stirred emotions.
"There are some memories, some flashbacks of that time when I landed and was first going to the Olympic Village," he said. "Driving around today on the roads - sort of seeing some landmarks I saw - really just brings back more and more memories."
Phelps is reported to be earning "well into seven figures" for the deal with FAW Mazda.
Mazda vice president Yu Hongjiang said he was certain Phelps would help sell cars in China's growing car market. In November, golfer Tiger Woods ended his nine-year relationship with General Motors Corp. Woods was a spokesman of GM's Buick brand.
China is the world's third largest car market, but even here sales have slowed during the global economic slump.
"We have very strong confidence in him (Phelps)," Yu said. "We all know the auto industry has had some unsuccessful records with image ambassadors. But there is no doubt this will be successful. ... Currently in China, nobody has the reputation that Phelps has."