Michael Phelps on meeting Usain Bolt, swimming with sharks and more

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NEW YORK — Michael Phelps discussed his first meeting with Usain Bolt, filming for Shark Week and, of course, comeback questions while promoting a new sponsor Tuesday.

Phelps, in Manhattan to promote Colgate’s #EveryDropCounts water-conservation campaign, sat down with OlympicTalk during a hectic day of media appearances.

Here’s a portion of the Q&A:

OlympicTalk: We saw you on the broadcast of the Mesa meet last weekend. We always think of that as your comeback meet (2014, 2016). I’m not asking you about a comeback, but how did it feel to be watching on the deck?

Phelps: We joked basically the whole time about it being the only time where Mesa isn’t a comeback meet. It was cool being there and seeing some of the people, being able to catch up with Katie [Ledecky], Simone [Manuel], Leah [Smith] and Nathan [Adrian], who I was on the team with this past summer. Obviously watching Chase [Kalisz] very closely. I always will be, just because he’s like a little brother to me.

It’s different now for me being on deck and watching compared to four years ago because I felt like I had the itch a little bit then, when I first retired. Now, I’m just like, yeah, I don’t miss it. I don’t miss getting in and warming up and being freezing when you get out of the pool or sitting at a meet for five or six hours a day. That’s not going to happen anymore.

I think I might be going to [training] camp for a few days with [longtime coach] Bob [Bowman] to help out, a camp in Colorado [Springs].

OlympicTalk: So it’s going to be a little bit of coaching. I thought you swore off being a Bob-type coach?

Phelps: I won’t be a Bob-type coach, ever. But there are certain things, like I know what Chase needs to do to be able to get to a 4:05 range [in the 400m individual medley]. I know what he can do to get to a 1:53, 1:54 range in the 200m ‘fly, too. That’s really what it is. Looking at stroke is basically what I’m doing for Bob [as a volunteer assistant coach] at ASU [Arizona State University].

He’ll send me videos, and I just watch videos. I can’t break it down to the other athletes, but I can break it down to [Bowman], and then he can break it down. I have a really hard time explaining how to fix everything. Some people don’t get what I’m saying, so I don’t even try. I just tell Bob, and he breaks it down. It’s fun.

OlympicTalk: You met Usain Bolt for the first time at the Laureus Awards in Monaco in February. What did you talk about?

Phelps: We landed at the airport at the same time, and we were both walking through security. I was like, oh nice, we’ve only competed in the last three Olympics together, and this is the first time we’re saying hello. We just kind of joked about it. It was pretty small talk, nothing really major. I was going to get a picture with him, but we didn’t even get a photo. We were just kind of both doing our own thing. Obviously, it’s cool watching somebody like him and watching what he does. Then you see him up close and personal. His legs are massive. He looks like a horse. So tall.

He was coming through security, and I was getting my stuff and putting it back in my bag. He walked through, we said hello, and we went separate ways. The next night we were together again [at bordering tables at the Laureus Awards], and we left.

Over the span of three Olympic Games, you’re with this guy, and you never meet him. It’s like, we were the big stories of the Games, and we never had the chance to meet until now. It’s just kind of bizarre. I never saw him once in any of the [Olympic] villages that we’ve ever had. I never saw him. We just had different schedules. He was [competing] in the second week. I was in the first.

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

OlympicTalk: Will you be at the world championships [in Budapest in July]?

Phelps: I’d like to go to the major meets. I think it would be cool for me to head there again. I wonder how the feeling would be at a meet like that. I know, in 2013, when I was at the worlds in Barcelona [while retired]. Going there and watching the [4x100m freestyle] relay, I was like, this is a joke. I can get up right now and swim faster than that

[Editor’s Note: The U.S. 4x100m led after three of four legs, but anchor Jimmy Feigen was very slow, and France edged the U.S. for gold]

So it’ll be interesting if I do go, just to see what the feeling will be. If we do go, Boomer and Nicole will probably go, and we’ll make it a trip. I’m waiting for the time where my son finally asks me why I’m not swimming anymore.

OlympicTalk: Shark Week. What can you tell me about that filming trip?

Phelps: I swam with five different breeds of shark. Some were up close and personal. Some were in a cage. Some were not in a cage. The biggest one was 13 feet. It was wild. Just being able to be in the water, and I’m such a shark fan, and being able to see these creatures up close and personal, it changes your perspective on them.

They have this bad rap, where all they want to do is eat, eat, eat. No, it’s really not that. As long as you’re not flailing around, and you’re watching where they are, watching what they’re doing. I was told to just make sure you always keep eye contact. Literally, I was standing there, and they were swimming past me. Normally, I would freak out, but it was so cool. It was something that was on my bucket list. The next part now is I want to dive with great whites. Those are my next sharks that I want to do.

OlympicTalk: We see you playing a lot of golf again now. Where’s your golf game now compared to in retirement four years ago?

Phelps: I can play and understand everything. Now, the chipping and putting aren’t very good, but I’m hitting the ball a lot straighter, a lot farther, but it’s chipping and putting. My lowest round is 83, and I double bogeyed two par-5s and had two three-putts. So I could shoot 78 off of that, really. If I could break 80, I’d be stoked.

We play a lot more. Nicole will get out and play some with me as well. It’s just, I have to actually go and practice. I now am fully realizing this. But it’s tough. We try to get out twice a week at least, but we’re traveling, and it’s hard with making sure we have a nanny.

OlympicTalk: You have a big sponsorship portfolio, why is Colgate’s initiative important to you?

Phelps: Every partner has always fit into my life and what I think about, what I want. Everything fits. Nothing is ever forced into anything we do. When you think about a stat like, if you leave your water running for two minutes while you’re brushing your teeth, you can waste up to four gallons of water. That’s ridiculous. I’ve been in water or around water all my life. It’s something we can all work on together and save this drinking water that we’re wasting daily.

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Michael Phelps on possible comeback: ‘We’ll see if I have that itch again’

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Michael Phelps routinely laughed off comeback questions in a media tour Tuesday, but he still hopes to watch the world championships in person in July.

And who knows if that competitive desire will rekindle this summer like it did four years ago.

“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, according to The Associated Press.

In 2013, then-retired Phelps attended worlds wearing a boot on his right foot due to a stress fracture suffered from playing golf. He laughed off a question then from NBC’s Dan Hicks about whether he had completely closed the door on a comeback. 

Turns out, Phelps had already re-entered the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency drug-testing pool (a sign of ending retirement) but wasn’t letting anyone in on that secret until November 2013.

Fast forward to now, and Phelps seems content not competing. He took his name out of drug testing in the fall.

Phelps attended last week’s USA Swimming meet in Mesa, Ariz., but didn’t race at the annual meet for the first time since 2013.

“It’s different now for me being on deck and watching compared to four years ago because I felt like I had the itch a little bit then, when I first retired,” Phelps said before a Today Show appearance Monday. “Now, I’m just like, yeah, I don’t miss it. I don’t miss getting in and warming up and being freezing when you get out of the pool or sitting at a meet for five or six hours a day. That’s not going to happen anymore.”

Phelps, who lives near Mesa with wife Nicole and 11-month-old son Boomer, spent the meet catching up with Olympic teammates Katie LedeckySimone ManuelLeah Smith and Nathan Adrian. And closely watching longtime training partner Chase Kalisz, whom he considers like a little brother.

Q&A: Phelps on meeting Bolt, swimming with sharks

He flew to New York this week to promote sponsor Colgate’s #EveryDropCounts water-conservation campaign, urging all to turn faucets off while brushing their teeth.

“You can waste up to four gallons of water, that’s ridiculous,” Phelps said. “Boomer isn’t brushing his teeth yet. It’s something so simple and so easy that we’re going to end up teaching him.”

Phelps may accompany Kalisz and other active swimmers and former coach Bob Bowman on an upcoming camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Phelps routinely flew to Colorado during his career to train at altitude.

But this time, he would purely be there to assist Bowman’s coaching.

“I won’t be a Bob-type coach, ever,” Phelps said.

Instead, Phelps pores over videos for Bowman, analyzing strokes.

“I can’t break it down to the other athletes, but I can break it down to [Bowman], and then he can break it down,” Phelps said.

Phelps said he knows how Kalisz can drop another couple of seconds off his 400m individual medley and his 200m butterfly. Kalisz took silver in the 400m IM in Rio.

For now, Phelps still handles the constant comeback questions with smiles and chuckles.

“I’m waiting for the time where my son finally asks me why I’m not swimming anymore,” he said.

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MORE: Ledecky plans world champs schedule

Sun Yang pulls off Katie Ledecky-like feat at Chinese Nationals

Sun Yang
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Katie Ledecky is the only swimmer to win world titles in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles. If that’s incredible, then what Sun Yang did at the Chinese Nationals last week is certainly notable.

The six-time Olympic medalist swept the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle national titles in Qingdao.

Sun, already the only swimmer to win Olympic titles in both the 200m and 1500m frees, has become stronger in the shorter freestyles in recent years.

He has the fastest times in the world this year in the 200m and 400m but ranks third in the 800m and 10th in the 1500m. He is No. 29 in the 100m free.

The 25-year-old could now swim the 100m free at a major international meet for the first time in July.

However, the 100m free semifinals and the 800m free final are in the same session. Sun has won the last three world titles in the 800m free and could shed the 100m to focus on the 800m.

Few men have shown that kind of range in a career. South Africa’s Ryk Neethling finished fifth in the 1500m free at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, then fourth in the 100m free at Athens 2004.

Sun, the only Chinese male swimmer with an Olympic title, is expected to try for a fourth Olympics in 2020, but that wasn’t a given last summer.

“I talked about my future with my father after Rio Olympics,” Sun said last week, according to Xinhua News Agency. “The career is so tough and I was thinking maybe I could only hang on for one or two more years. It’s hard for an athlete to keep fighting for a long time and only the strong-minded ones could stand the trial.”

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