Michael Phelps believes he can do something at the Rio 2016 Olympics that he did not when he won eight gold medals at the Beijing 2008 Games — compete at 100 percent.
“I’m motivated to go see what I really can do actually giving 100 percent,” Phelps said Wednesday, commenting on his work ethic in training. “’08, ’12, I wasn’t 100 percent at either one of those Games.”
Longtime coach Bob Bowman, seated next to Phelps, interrupted.
“See, he could have won nine [gold medals],” Bowman said of Beijing 2008.
“Please don’t write that,” Phelps responded.
“I’m just kidding,” Bowman said.
Phelps and Bowman reminisced ahead of the U.S. Winter Nationals in Federal Way, Wash., his next meet en route to what they hope are Phelps’ fifth Olympics in eight months.
The meet runs Thursday through Saturday and will be streamed live on USASwimming.org/Nationals. NBC will air TV coverage Sunday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. ET.
“Part of what happened in 2008 is starting to set in a little bit,” said Phelps, who has said this year that he’s in better shape now that at any time since 2008 and perhaps better than in 2008. “I don’t know how long it’ll take. I never knew how long it would take, but I knew it would take some time to fully set in what really happened — eight for eight in 2008. I’m starting to feel a little bit now, but I think, probably, once I’m done and actually have the time to sit down and look back on my full career, I think it’ll really set in.”
Phelps will most certainly not try to duplicate his eight-gold performance in 2016. A six-event slate is more realistic.
This week, he will swim in Federal Way for the first time since the 2000 Spring Nationals, when a 14-year-old Phelps finished third in the 200m butterfly.
At that meet, Phelps said he ate all 21 of his meals in a seven-day stretch at the same restaurant — Mitzel’s American Kitchen — including clam chowder and cheesecake with every meal, according to his biography.
Though Phelps’ performance at that meet 15 years ago caused Bowman to first say to himself, “He’s going to make the Olympic team,” according to the biography, Phelps on Wednesday remembered the 200m fly defeat as “an absolute beatdown” and recalled his finishing time to the second.
“The thing that made me so hungry was I wanted to beat every single one of them,” Phelps said of the veterans that topped him in 2000. “Right now, I am the old man. … I’d like to not let the young bucks beat me.”
Phelps has suffered plenty of defeats this year, most to younger swimmers, but not in the races that mattered most. He clocked the fastest times in the world this year in the 100m and 200m butterflies and the 200m individual medley at the U.S. Championships in August.
Phelps said people approach him more after his comeback from a DUI arrest and treatment program last year, showing his human side in a Sports Illustrated cover story and subsequent interviews.
But the kids are still in awe.
Phelps said he walked into an elevator holding two younger swimmers earlier Wednesday, and they moved into the back corners of the vast cell.
“Am I really that scary?” Phelps, who recently moved to Arizona and trained in an Arizona State Sun Devils logo swim cap Wednesday, joked. “Are people really that afraid of me?”
As for the competition, Phelps won’t be facing his top rivals in the butterflies and individual medleys. He’ll focus on goal times, perhaps going faster than at a Minneapolis meet last month.
“It was a good place to start,” Phelps said of Minneapolis. “Bob and I know what we need to change throughout the year to be able to get to a time that I would like to get to before we go to trials.”
Phelps notched one race win over five finals in Minneapolis, beaten by younger swimmers every time.
“I notice some of the younger guys don’t have as much [early-race] speed as I do … but they just come home [at the end of the race] a lot faster than me,” he said.
When will Phelps stop trying to beat the kids and step away from swimming?
“What’s the last day of the [Rio] Olympics?” Phelps quipped. “That’s 100 percent the last one. Some of the Aussies are joking that I still have four more years because [Australian Olympic champion] Grant [Hackett]‘s still at 35 going. It’s not happening.”
FLASHBACK: Michael Phelps’ Olympic debut in 2000