Michael Phelps on meeting Usain Bolt, swimming with sharks and more

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NEW YORK — Michael Phelps discussed his first meeting with Usain Bolt, filming for Shark Week and, of course, comeback questions while promoting a new sponsor Tuesday.

Phelps, in Manhattan to promote Colgate’s #EveryDropCounts water-conservation campaign, sat down with OlympicTalk during a hectic day of media appearances.

Here’s a portion of the Q&A:

OlympicTalk: We saw you on the broadcast of the Mesa meet last weekend. We always think of that as your comeback meet (2014, 2016). I’m not asking you about a comeback, but how did it feel to be watching on the deck?

Phelps: We joked basically the whole time about it being the only time where Mesa isn’t a comeback meet. It was cool being there and seeing some of the people, being able to catch up with Katie [Ledecky], Simone [Manuel], Leah [Smith] and Nathan [Adrian], who I was on the team with this past summer. Obviously watching Chase [Kalisz] very closely. I always will be, just because he’s like a little brother to me.

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. 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.

I think I might be going to [training] camp for a few days with [longtime coach] Bob [Bowman] to help out, a camp in Colorado [Springs].

OlympicTalk: So it’s going to be a little bit of coaching. I thought you swore off being a Bob-type coach?

Phelps: I won’t be a Bob-type coach, ever. But there are certain things, like I know what Chase needs to do to be able to get to a 4:05 range [in the 400m individual medley]. I know what he can do to get to a 1:53, 1:54 range in the 200m ‘fly, too. That’s really what it is. Looking at stroke is basically what I’m doing for Bob [as a volunteer assistant coach] at ASU [Arizona State University].

He’ll send me videos, and I just watch videos. 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. I have a really hard time explaining how to fix everything. Some people don’t get what I’m saying, so I don’t even try. I just tell Bob, and he breaks it down. It’s fun.

OlympicTalk: You met Usain Bolt for the first time at the Laureus Awards in Monaco in February. What did you talk about?

Phelps: We landed at the airport at the same time, and we were both walking through security. I was like, oh nice, we’ve only competed in the last three Olympics together, and this is the first time we’re saying hello. We just kind of joked about it. It was pretty small talk, nothing really major. I was going to get a picture with him, but we didn’t even get a photo. We were just kind of both doing our own thing. Obviously, it’s cool watching somebody like him and watching what he does. Then you see him up close and personal. His legs are massive. He looks like a horse. So tall.

He was coming through security, and I was getting my stuff and putting it back in my bag. He walked through, we said hello, and we went separate ways. The next night we were together again [at bordering tables at the Laureus Awards], and we left.

Over the span of three Olympic Games, you’re with this guy, and you never meet him. It’s like, we were the big stories of the Games, and we never had the chance to meet until now. It’s just kind of bizarre. I never saw him once in any of the [Olympic] villages that we’ve ever had. I never saw him. We just had different schedules. He was [competing] in the second week. I was in the first.

MORE: Phelps on comeback: ‘We’ll see if I have that itch again’

OlympicTalk: Will you be at the world championships [in Budapest in July]?

Phelps: I’d like to go to the major meets. I think it would be cool for me to head there again. I wonder how the feeling would be at a meet like that. I know, in 2013, when I was at the worlds in Barcelona [while retired]. Going there and watching the [4x100m freestyle] relay, I was like, this is a joke. I can get up right now and swim faster than that

[Editor’s Note: The U.S. 4x100m led after three of four legs, but anchor Jimmy Feigen was very slow, and France edged the U.S. for gold]

So it’ll be interesting if I do go, just to see what the feeling will be. If we do go, Boomer and Nicole will probably go, and we’ll make it a trip. I’m waiting for the time where my son finally asks me why I’m not swimming anymore.

OlympicTalk: Shark Week. What can you tell me about that filming trip?

Phelps: I swam with five different breeds of shark. Some were up close and personal. Some were in a cage. Some were not in a cage. The biggest one was 13 feet. It was wild. Just being able to be in the water, and I’m such a shark fan, and being able to see these creatures up close and personal, it changes your perspective on them.

They have this bad rap, where all they want to do is eat, eat, eat. No, it’s really not that. As long as you’re not flailing around, and you’re watching where they are, watching what they’re doing. I was told to just make sure you always keep eye contact. Literally, I was standing there, and they were swimming past me. Normally, I would freak out, but it was so cool. It was something that was on my bucket list. The next part now is I want to dive with great whites. Those are my next sharks that I want to do.

OlympicTalk: We see you playing a lot of golf again now. Where’s your golf game now compared to in retirement four years ago?

Phelps: I can play and understand everything. Now, the chipping and putting aren’t very good, but I’m hitting the ball a lot straighter, a lot farther, but it’s chipping and putting. My lowest round is 83, and I double bogeyed two par-5s and had two three-putts. So I could shoot 78 off of that, really. If I could break 80, I’d be stoked.

We play a lot more. Nicole will get out and play some with me as well. It’s just, I have to actually go and practice. I now am fully realizing this. But it’s tough. We try to get out twice a week at least, but we’re traveling, and it’s hard with making sure we have a nanny.

OlympicTalk: You have a big sponsorship portfolio, why is Colgate’s initiative important to you?

Phelps: Every partner has always fit into my life and what I think about, what I want. Everything fits. Nothing is ever forced into anything we do. When you think about a stat like, if you leave your water running for two minutes while you’re brushing your teeth, you can waste up to four gallons of water. That’s ridiculous. I’ve been in water or around water all my life. It’s something we can all work on together and save this drinking water that we’re wasting daily.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”