The last two days in Los Angeles marked one of the greatest gatherings of Olympic legends outside of the Olympic Games.
The list included Michael Phelps, Carl Lewis, Nadia Comaneci, Bart Conner, Greg Louganis, Apolo Ohno, Yuna Kim, Michelle Kwan, Scott Hamilton, Meryl Davis, Hannah Teter, Abby Wambach, John Carlos and Ato Boldon.
They came for the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony and the Doha Goals Forum. Here are excerpts from Phelps’ interview with Boldon, an NBC Olympics track and field analyst, and questions Phelps took from an audience at the Doha Goals Forum on Sunday:
On where he keeps his medals: I think there’s only one person, maybe a handful of people in this world who know where my medals are. … I probably have only looked at them about once or twice all together because there are so many other things that I want to do, whether it’s in the pool or out of the pool. My goals are nonstop.
On being at the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony: I stood right at the bottom of the tunnel and watched all the athletes come out. You could feel the energy that was coming out. … I guess I kind of thought back to what it would have been like if I was able to experience that [Phelps has never attended an Olympic Opening Ceremony, as athletes who compete in the first weekend of the Games often skip it]. … It just sent chills up my body.
On his comeback: It was like 9:30, 10 o’clock at night one day, and I called him [coach Bob Bowman]. I was like, “What do you think about me coming back?” He was like, “Call me in the morning.” So I called him the next morning, and he knew that I was for real. I got back to Baltimore, and we had a meeting, and he’s like, we’re going to do this the right way. That’s the way we’ve been doing it. I’m in a much better place now than I probably have ever been in my career.
On feeling less pressure: Going into 2012, I felt like I had to finish there. I had to make it to 2012. Now, I’m just having fun.
On being a Special Olympics global ambassador: As a kid, I was picked on. I was made fun of. … I used to remember kids flicking [my ears] in school. I can still remember to this day, I remember the teacher and her name in middle school who told me that I would never succeed in anything that I would ever put my mind to.
On Olympic memories: The first [gold medal] was one of the coolest [the 400m individual medley at the Athens 2004 Olympics in world-record time]. Sort of never, ever forgetting exactly where my mom and I shared that first gold medal through a chain-link fence in Athens, Greece, because I was unable to get to my mom. So I passed it through this little chain-link fence [while holding a peanut butter sandwich and telling his mom, “Look what I did,” as has been reported often since 2004]. I think 2008, probably 200m free. I look at that race, and today, still, and say that’s probably my best race I’ve ever swam in my life from start to finish. It was kind of over at 15 meters. I was in the best shape possible. My stroke was perfect. Everything about that race, to me, was the best. [Phelps broke his world record in that event by nine tenths of a second]
On his first Olympics in Sydney in 2000: I was so discouraged that I didn’t medal. I was fifth in my first Olympics at 15 [in his only race, the 200m butterfly]. I didn’t tie my suit. It was my first time out of the country. I was literally not prepared at all. But I wanted so much more, and I could never, ever settle unless I was the absolute best.
On his inspirations: I looked up to Michael Jordan really as a kid because of what he did and how he changed the sport of basketball. That’s what I wanted to do in the sport of swimming. We’ve come a long way since 2000 and my first Olympic Games.