The most decorated athlete in the history of modern Olympics wants a few more cracks at gold. Michael Phelps, the celebrated U.S. swimmer who retired following the 2012 summer Olympics in London, is ready to dive back into world class competition. Phelps said that the fun of competitive swimming along with the chance to swim in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio were the deciding factors that ended his short-lived retirement.
Phelps, who turns 29 in June, will begin his comeback at the Arena Grand Prix in Mesa, Arizona on April 24-26. Despite publicly acknowledging that he would not come out of retirement, the multiple gold medal winner has actually been setting this process in motion for more than six months. He resumed training last fall and also re-entered the U.S. drug testing program at that time. This month marked the end of his six month waiting period that the U.S. Doping Agency mandates all athletes must observe before they are deemed eligible for competition.
In his first competition in nearly two years, Phelps will be swimming in the 50-meter freestyle, the 100-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly. His longtime coach, Bob Bowman, conceded that the swimmer is still quite a ways away from his gold medal winning form of 2012, but he has gotten back in shape as he has trained with Bowman’s swim team consistently Monday through Friday since the fall.
“”[Phelps] can give a good effort and certainly not be embarrassed,” Bowman said. “He’s in enough shape to swim competitively.”
Bowman says that Phelps is ready to dive back in to international competition, and by starting to get his feet wet now, he will improve his chances of adding to his awe-inspiring metal collection. Phelps has received 22 Olympic medals over the course of his career, including 18 golds.
The longtime swim coach said that entering the 2012 games, the rigorous training schedule was beginning to weigh on Phelps, who really had nothing left to prove inside the pool. He said that his protege seemed to lack the passion and focus that had carried him throughout his career. Following his retirement, however, all that had changed.
“[Phelps] really has the joy of training again, which he really hasn’t had in a while,” Bowman said. “He’s very happy when he comes in. He just enjoys it. He has a good time with the guys. He does the work willingly.”
Rowdy Gaines, the former gold metal winning swimmer and current swimming commentator for Universal, said that he noticed the return of that missing spark when Phelps joined him in NBC’s announcers’ booth for the swimming World Championships in Barcelona last summer. The United States ending up taking second place at the Worlds, behind France. Gaines said that Phelps was noticeably fired up and irritated while in the booth. He said he could see it with his body language and heard it in the way he was speaking. Phelps was critical of the team. He said that Phelps was frustrated and sounded like he wanted to help. He sounded like he felt that he could help.
At this stage in his career, Phelps will most likely stick to relays and shorter races moving forward, as he will in Mesa later this month. He already is registered for the upcoming May Grand Prix in Charlotte as well as the Santa Clara Grand Prix in June. Of course, the former Olympian’s performance in Mesa will go a long way in determining whether or not he actually competes in those events. Following the Grand Prix competitions, if Phelps and Bowman feel good about where the gold medalist is physically and mentally, then in August Phelps may compete in the 2015 U.S. Championships in Irvine, California. Of course, the U.S Championships are where swimmers are selected to represent the United States in the 2015 World Championships. Stay tuned. If Phelps is genuinely ready to dive back in, swimming can get very interesting over the next couple of years.
Commentary by Jeremy Mika