ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Olympic swimming hero Michael Phelps took a victory lap through the Maryland General Assembly on Thursday and endorsed keeping the Preakness Stakes horse race in Baltimore -- though he said he'd never attended the race.
Phelps was in Annapolis to be honored for his record-setting eight gold medals last year at the Beijing Olympic Games.
While at the Capitol, the Olympic swimming champ ventured into the ongoing debate over the Preakness, saying he supports keeping the second leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown in Baltimore. He said he's never attended the race but would like the opportunity to do so.
"To have it leave Baltimore, I can't really see that happening ... that would be something that would be, I think, devastating," Phelps said.
The swimmer arrived in Annapolis shortly after aides to Gov. Martin O'Malley said Maryland could lose the Preakness because the event's owner is going through bankruptcy proceedings.
Lawmakers are considering whether to increase the state's authority to buy or exercise eminent domain over Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, where the race is held.
Phelps got rock-star treatment from lawmakers, who gave him a 30-second standing ovation with thunderous applause and whistles in the House of Delegates. Delegates later met with Phelps privately, where aides said he posed for pictures and shook hands.
Phelps has won a total of 14 gold medals in two separate Olympics games.
"No one has ever won 14 gold medals, no one," House Speaker Michael Busch said. "To put this in some perspective, there are some countries that have competed in the Olympics since the beginning of the modern Olympics that have not won 14 gold medals ..."
Phelps grew up in the Baltimore suburb of Towson and graduated from Towson High School. He trained at a Baltimore swimming club until after the 2004 Olympics, when he moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., to follow his coach Bob Bowman who'd taken a position at the University of Michigan.
Phelps now owns a home in Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood and is training in Maryland for the 2012 Olympics.
"I've been gone the last four years. It feels good to be back in the great state of Maryland," Phelps told lawmakers.
Phelps, whose extracurricular habits have been under scrutiny after a photo surfaced showing him smoking from a marijuana pipe, brushed off media reports of heavy partying this week at a New York club. He said he was only celebrating a friend's mother's birthday.
"I was with my friend's mother ... It was her birthday and she was getting one year older -- and we were sitting there hanging out, that was about all it was," Phelps said.
More information: Read Senate Bill 1072