On a summer 2013 night, Bob Bowman sat on the Delaware shoreline and received a text.
“Let’s have dinner soon. MP”
Bowman and Michael Phelps met a few days later at the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a reservation Phelps made for two at Wit & Wisdom.
At the seafood restaurant, Phelps first told Bowman about his serious comeback thoughts after retiring following the London Olympics.
In “The Golden Rules,” Bowman details 10 steps to world-class excellence in life and work, illustrating them with lessons learned from coaching not only Phelps, but also several more world-class swimmers and his own personal experiences.
Here is an excerpt on Bowman and Phelps’ meeting in 2013 from “The Golden Rules,” which was released today.
Michael leaned forward and his eyes narrowed. He looked at me and said, “I’m thinking about coming back.” I stared at him. He smiled a bit. “Yep,” he went on, “I’m thinking about the Olympics one more time.”
I wasn’t sure if I should jump for joy or start crying.
“You want to come back?” I asked, a bit shocked and confused. He sort of grinned and nodded.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. A few months earlier, while he was on vacation with some buddies in Cabo San Lucas, Michael had called me late one night and started blathering on about making some sort of return. At the time, I didn’t think much of the call; I simply took it as a late-at-night-Michael ramble and told him, “Absolutely not,” and hung up.
But on this night, as he sat across the table from me, I could tell he was serious. And I wondered, Why? Why would he want to go through all the effort of another Olympic cycle? Michael had legendary status: eighteen Olympic golds among his twenty-two total. He’d broken dozens of world records and made millions of dollars along the way. The press had scrutinized nearly every angle of his short life; a comeback would put the media back on his trail. Plus, had he forgotten the run-up to the London Olympics and how miserable both he and I were?
“Do you remember those last four years?” I finally asked him.
“It won’t be like that,” he said.
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “I’ve heard that before.” Then I shook my head.
There was silence for a minute or so. I thought about what his decision would mean, for him and for me. Then I said, “If you’re making a comeback for your sponsors, or if you’re doing it because you don’t have anything better to do with your life, or if you can’t figure your life out, then you should not do it. Michael, I mean it: You should not do it.”
He nodded. And waited. Then he said, “Bob, I can tell you, those aren’t the reasons.”
I came at him again. “Let me be clear, Michael. Unless you’re doing it for the right reasons, and those reasons have to be that you’re doing it only for yourself, then you should not do this.”
Now, for the first time all night—in fact, for the first time that I could remember—Michael looked at me with the face of a wizened young man. And he said, “That’s the only reason I want to do it. For me. I love to swim. I want to swim.”
He paused for a second. “And I have more things I want to accomplish.”
That’s when I knew for certain that he meant what he was saying …