Michael Phelps popped on social media, scanned strangers’ comments and friends’ text messages after his revealing Sports Illustrated cover story came out Tuesday.
“How did it feel to say whatever you want to say and be human?” friends asked.
“I don’t have anything to hide,” Phelps told media Wednesday. “I’m a human being. Everything’s out there.”
He picked out one Twitter comment.
“I wasn’t that fond of him, but after reading this article my mind has really been interested in the sport and watching him over the next year,” Phelps paraphrased before adding his reaction. “I think just reading things like that, it’s pretty cool, and it’s the first time I felt that way.”
Phelps spoke Wednesday in Minneapolis, where he could swim in as many as six events at the meet kicking off the Olympic season.
“For me, when I see athletes tell their stories and be more human, I think there’s a better connection,” he said. “I think it just shows that we are all human beings, and it’s OK to seek help if you need it. I think that’s something that I hope a lot of people got out of that.
The meet runs from Thursday through Saturday, with live webcasts on USASwimming.org (10 a.m. ET prelims; 7 p.m. finals).
It’s the first meet including all four U.S. swimming headliners — Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky — since the August 2014 Pan Pacific Championships.
A little more than one month after Pan Pacs, Phelps was arrested on DUI charges, beginning an 11-month journey that climaxed with a comeback at the U.S. Championships in August.
At Nationals, Phelps swam the world’s fastest times of the year in the 100m and 200m butterfly and the 200m individual medley, including the world’s fastest times in the butterfly events since 2009 (the record-wild, fast-suit era). He celebrated emphatically, slamming his arms in the San Antonio pool.
Minneapolis marks his first meet since, and the setting conjures memories of Phelps’ first Senior Nationals at the same University of Minnesota pool, when he was a 14-year-old in 1999.
Then, Phelps spent more time in awe of Olympic medalists Tom Dolan and Tom Malchow than on concentrating on his own swims.
“Dead last in two events,” coach Bob Bowman quipped Wednesday. “Very successful.”
Phelps’ confidence seems unshakable now, after emerging from the darkest time of his life last year and then lighting up the pool in San Antonio three months ago.
“There’s still more in the tank,” Phelps said. “I have very lofty goals [which Phelps, as his is policy, wouldn’t reveal]. … We’re working on getting faster.”
Phelps went into the U.S. Championships in August skeptical, after spring meets that left him describing his swimming as “horrendous” and “garbage.”
“As soon as the first one happened at Nationals, I thought, wow, I can really do something here,” Phelps said. “It kind of opened my eyes up.
“It just gives me, I guess, a lot more hope that there’s a lot more that him [Bowman] and I can do over the next year.”
Now, after spending three weeks training at altitude in Colorado Springs, he feels a little more like that kid who forgot to tie his suit strings and wore the wrong credential at the Sydney Olympics.
“I’m hungrier than where I was leading into 2012, besides the recovery part for me, how it’s a little bit slower nowadays,” said Phelps, who turned 30 on June 30 and in 2016 can become the oldest individual Olympic swimming champion. “I feel like I did in high school, like that kind of excitement level.”
Phelps said he’s “giddy.”
“It’s kind of scary going into this year,” he said, pausing for a second and then rephrasing. “Scary in a good way.”