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

Korea Olympic hockey coach takes high school job

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Sarah Murray, who coached the joint Korean Olympic women’s hockey team in PyeongChang, will coach the Owatonna High School girls team in her native Minnesota starting this fall.

Murray has not responded to a request for comment though the school on whether this means she is leaving the South Korean national team program.

Murray, 30, guided the joint Korean Olympic team to an 0-5 record. The tournament underdogs scored in three games and were within two goals of Switzerland.

Three weeks before the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee approved adding 12 North Koreans to the South Korean Olympic women’s hockey team, making it the first joint Korean team in any Olympic event.

Murray initially had mixed feelings.

“It’s exciting to be a part of something that’s so historic, to have two countries so divided come together through sports,” Murray said in January, according to Yonhap News Agency. “I think the story is great, and to be a part of it is important. But at the same time, it’s mixed feelings because it’s at the expense of, ‘We don’t get to play our full roster.’”

She expressed optimism after the Games.

“We have really enjoyed working with the North’s players and coaches, and we really do want to help them in the future,” Murray said, according to The Associated Press, adding that a possible “exchange game” was discussed to maintain the connection. “They want to get better, they want to keep learning from us and we want to help them. And there are things that we can learn from them, too.”

Murray won two NCAA titles as a player at Minnesota-Duluth. Her father, Andy Murray, spent 10 seasons coaching the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues in the 2000s.

She replaces an Otawonna coach who stepped down to focus on the girls lacrosse program and spend more time with his family.

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MORE: South Korea hockey team misses playing with North Koreans

Michael Phelps launches mental health campaign

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Michael Phelps was hanging at the pool on Tuesday.

No, he’s not planning another comeback.

He’s got a bigger goal to tackle.

Mental health.

After revealing the depths of his depression — and even thoughts of suicide after his second drunken-driving arrest — Phelps is hoping to make a difference for those who are dealing with similar issues.

The 23-time Olympic gold medalist announced a partnership with Talkspace, which provides online therapy, and said he considers it a higher calling than anything he ever did as a swimmer.

“Somebody told me yesterday about his daughter going through a very, very deep depression and not really wanting to be alive,” Phelps said in an interview with The Associated Press. “She read stories about me opening up. He told me how much that helped her. For me, that’s way bigger than ever winning gold medals. The chance to potentially save a life, to give that person an opportunity to grow and learn and help someone else, there’s nothing better in life.”

Despite his unprecedented success as an athlete, Phelps went through plenty of dark moments.

His first DUI arrest came when he was just 19, a few months after he won six gold medals at the 2004 Summer Olympics. He was briefly suspended after a picture emerged of him smoking from a marijuana pipe after his record eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games. He struggled to get motivated heading into the 2012 Olympics.

But his low point came in 2014, after he abandoned retirement to compete in a fifth Olympics only to be arrested again for driving under the influence. He checked into an Arizona rehab clinic and finally realized just how much he was hurting — so much so, he wasn’t sure he wanted to go on living.

“I thought it would make things easier,” Phelps recalled. “I almost felt like it would be better for everybody if I wasn’t there. But the more I thought about it, I wanted to find a different route. I wanted to see if I could find some help. I wanted to see if I could get better.”

Phelps said he’s in a much better place these days. He’s happily married and living in suburban Phoenix with two small children, 2-year-old Boomer and 3-month-old Beckett. He’s satisfied with his career, saying there’s nothing left to accomplish at the pool.

But there are times that he struggles with depression and anxiety.

He figures it will be that way for the rest of his life.

“I still go through times that are very challenging. I do break down and maybe have a bad day, where I’m not in a good mental state,” Phelps said. “I understand that. It’s who I am. I guess that will always be something that’s a part of me.”

He hopes that his deal with Talkspace, which helps connect those in need with therapists through a variety on online conduits, will help to remove some of the stigma associated with mental health — especially for those who are reluctant to seek out help in person or may not have the financial means.

Phelps said mental health is especially important when suicide rates are on the rise and a rash of school shootings have rocked the United States.

“I feel like with all the issues we have in this world, this is something where I can truly make significant impact,” he said.

The 32-year-old Phelps has kept himself in good condition since Rio. He rides a bike nearly every day and still works out at the pool at least twice a week. When he stepped on the scales Monday, he weighed 192 pounds — 3 pounds less than he was at his last Olympics.

“Could I come back? Yes,” he said. “I think it would be even easier than it was in 2014 (when he officially ended his first attempt at retirement). I’m in better shape now than I was then.”

But, with those tantalizing words, Phelps quickly struck down any thought of returning to competitive swimming.

He simply doesn’t have any motivation to add to his record haul.

“Would I like to break a world record? Yeah, obviously,” Phelps said. “But I also know what I did to prepare for Rio. I thought I did a pretty damn good job of getting myself ready to go. I didn’t want any what-ifs 20 years down the road. Twenty years down the road, I won’t have that. I’ll be able to say I was happy with how I finished my career. I was happy to be able to have my family there, to have my first-born there to watch. I’ll have those memories forever.

“All good things must come to an end eventually. That was the best way to go out.”

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