NEW YORK — Michael Phelps looked out into a Times Square hotel ballroom, filled with many athletes whom he inspired, and delivered an acceptance speech for an award honoring his impact on swimming.
The 23-time Olympic champion held a smartphone in his right hand and occasionally peered at it as he again thanked the most important people in his life. His voiced cracked.
Phelps reflected, again, on his stated goal when he turned professional at age 16 in 2001: to change the sport of swimming.
He saw a room full of swimmers at the Golden Goggle Awards. The annual event debuted in 2004, shortly after Phelps won his first eight medals in Athens and three years before the iPhone.
“We’ve done it, look at this,” Phelps said. “2000, this never would have happened. 1996, never would have happened.”
Phelps won three Golden Goggle Awards on Monday night. He acknowledged that they would be his final three, but that stated goal from 16 year ago remains.
“There’s a lot more change that can be done to make this even bigger,” Phelps said not of the awards show but of the sport’s growth. “I’m so excited and looking forward to that opportunity.”
Former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol presented the Impact award to Phelps.
Ebersol acknowledged four people who impacted Phelps’ life — mother Debbie Phelps, coach Bob Bowman, agent Peter Carlisle and wife Nicole Phelps.
“I was lucky enough at the forefront of American media covering the Olympics, from the mid-’90s until almost London, and if there was one person that defined that entire era, it was Michael,” Ebersol said. “We followed him from the time he was a 15-year-old in Sydney, on and on through the incredible performance in Athens to the miraculous performance in [Beijing] to the, really, mind-boggling thing of him, probably only half-prepared, still winning gold medals in London and then the glorious finish to the greatest career in Olympic history by any athlete in Rio.
“Michael’s whole run was something that everybody in America got to share.”
Before Phelps exited the stage one last time, he offered these final words:
“I will always be here. Anything you guys ever need, please, let me know, if I can ever help.”Follow @nzaccardi