Phelps on come­back: ‘We’ll see if I get that itch again’

Malta Independent - - FEATURE -

Michael Phelps hasn’t got­ten the urge to re­turn to swim­ming. Not yet any­way. The win­ningest ath­lete in Olympic his­tory is clearly en­joy­ing mar­riage, fa­ther­hood and a new­found will­ing­ness to speak out on con­tentious is­sues such as dop­ing .

But, in a tan­ta­liz­ing con­ces­sion that he hasn’t to­tally closed the door on an­other come­back, Phelps told The As­so­ci­ated Press that it might be tough to stay away from the pool — es­pe­cially if he at­tends the up­com­ing world cham­pi­onships in Bu­dapest.

“The true test will be, if I do end up go­ing over to the worlds this sum­mer, do I have that itch again?” Phelps said Tues­day dur­ing a tele­phone in­ter­view.

He was al­ready strongly con­sid­er­ing his first come­back when he at­tended the 2013 cham­pi­onships in Barcelona, and there was no doubt he’d be back for his fifth Olympics when that meet ended.

“I was just like, ‘This is a joke. How can th­ese guys be swim­ming this slow?’” re­called Phelps, who was es­pe­cially mo­ti­vated by a dis­ap­point­ing per­for­mance from the men’s re­lay team. “We’ll see if I get that itch again.”

For now, he’s happy with his post-swim­ming life, which in­cludes a new spon­sor­ship deal with Col­gate in which he is push­ing wa­ter con­ser­va­tion.

While Phelps still trav­els ex­ten­sively, tend­ing to var­i­ous spon­sors and busi­ness in­ter­ests, he gets a lot more qual­ity time with wife Ni­cole and their son, Boomer, who will cel­e­brate his first birthday in a few weeks.

“He has started stand­ing by him­self a lit­tle bit from time to time,” Phelps said. “He’s on the move all the time now and lov­ing it. He’s killing it. It’s so fun to watch him. Every day, it’s some­thing dif­fer­ent, some­thing spe­cial. It’s a treat for me to see it face to face. It’s wild. It’s mind-blow­ing for Ni­cole and I. We still look at each other some­times and go, ‘Wow, we have a son. This is our son.’”

If Phelps re­turns to com­pet­i­tive swim­ming, the de­mands of train­ing would surely cut heav­ily into his fam­ily time. That’s why, if he tries to pre­dict what the fu­ture might hold, it doesn’t in­clude a sixth Olympics at Tokyo in 2020.

“I’m hav­ing so many amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, so many cool ex­pe­ri­ences, with my fam­ily,” he said. “I don’t see my­self mak­ing a come­back. I have no de­sire right now to do it. I’m in the sec­ond chap­ter of my life. I have a lot of things I now want to ac­com­plish. I‘m re­al­iz­ing that more and more. This is a re­ally cool op­por­tu­nity for me to do some things I was not able to do when I was swim­ming.”

That in­cludes lend­ing his still-con­sid­er­able clout to is­sues that he con­sid­ers im­por­tant to swim­ming and the world.

In the lead-up to the Rio Games, Phelps talked for the first time about the scourge of dop­ing, say­ing he wasn’t sure if he had ever com­peted in a to­tally clean race, even while win­ning a record 23 gold medals and 28 medals in all.

In Fe­bru­ary, he took it a step fur­ther by tes­ti­fy­ing at a con­gres­sional hear­ing on im­prov­ing an­ti­dop­ing mea­sures. He said ath­letes don’t be­lieve in the test­ing pro­grams that are al­ready in place, and he urged law­mak­ers to help “en­sure the sys­tem is fair and re­li­able.”

“Through­out my ca­reer, I never spoke out about any­thing,” Phelps con­ceded. “I stayed in my lane and fo­cused on what I was do­ing. To get out front and speak out on things that are pas­sion­ate to me, to take dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to things I want to talk about in dif­fer­ent walks of life, that’s pretty cool and pretty spe­cial for me. The op­por­tu­ni­ties I have are ab­so­lutely amaz­ing.

“Hope­fully,” he added, “I can change some things and make a dif­fer­ence.”

He’s do­ing a me­dia blitz this week for his new deal with Col­gate and the “Save Wa­ter” pro­gram, co­in­cid­ing with Earth Day on Satur­day.

“It com­pletely blows my mind to think about how much you can waste when you brush your teeth twice a day,” Phelps said. “If you leave the wa­ter run­ning while you brush your teeth, it’s wast­ing four to five gal­lons every time you do that. Every time. If we can get peo­ple to stop do­ing that, think how many mil­lions of peo­ple in the world could con­trib­ute in just that small way.”

Phelps said this sec­ond re­tire­ment, com­ing af­ter an Olympics in which he won five gold medals and a sil­ver with his new fam­ily along for the ride, has en­abled him to truly ap­pre­ci­ate the enor­mous ac­com­plish­ments of his ca­reer.

He still feels like Rio was the per­fect end­ing .

“I never had that mo­ment be­fore to sit back and think about what I had done,” Phelps said. “I’m so stoked that I came back for (the 2016) Olympics. I fin­ished ex­actly how I wanted.” Is he re­ally fin­ished? Stay tuned.

I never had that mo­ment be­fore to sit back and think about what I had done

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