Michael Phelps held up a gold medal at the London Olympics and told Bob Costas in a primetime sitdown interview, “This was the last medal that I will ever swim for.”
The following summer, Phelps had quietly unretired, re-entering the drug-testing pool to set a run for a fifth and final Olympics in 2016.
“That’s the only reason I want to do it. For me. I love to swim. I want to swim,” Phelps told longtime coach Bob Bowman in a 2013 dinner at the Four Seasons in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, according to Bowman’s 2016 book, “The Golden Rules.” “And I have more things I want to accomplish.”
There wasn’t much left to check off. But Phelps was motivated by being overtaken by South African Chad le Clos in the 2012 Olympic 200m butterfly, Phelps’ trademark event. Phelps and Bowman were also unsatisfied by his (lack of serious) preparation for those London Games.
Phelps’ performances in London highlight NBCSN’s Olympic Games Week programming on Friday night. A full TV schedule is here.
“If I decide to keep going and swim again, then I’ll compete,” Phelps told The Associated Press after his name reappeared on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s athlete test history database in November 2013, signaling a 2014 return to competition. “If I don’t, I guess I’ll re-retire. Just don’t compare me to Brett Favre.”
At Phelps’ first meet back in April 2014, he did not commit to an Olympic run, only saying he was swimming “for fun” to see where it would take him. On Sept. 30, 2014, Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence, pulled over for going 84 miles per hour in a 45-mph zone and driving erratically.
He served a six-month suspension, during which he spent 45 days at the Meadows, an Arizona rehab facility. Before going there, Phelps spent days at his Baltimore home curled in a fetal position, “not wanting to be alive anymore,” he first told Sports Illustrated in 2015.
When Phelps returned to competition in April 2015, he first spoke openly about going for the Rio Olympics.
“Hopefully, I’ll look forward to rejoining my teammates next summer,” Phelps said then. “I guess leading into Rio.”
Bowman, sitting next to Phelps, interrupted the press conference at that point, whispering, “this is the first time,” in reference to mentioning the site of the next Olympics.
You know the rest of the story. Phelps trained himself into better shape than London. After first swearing off the 200m butterfly, he added the event back to his program. In Rio, Phelps swam the fastest 100m free of his life as part of a relay and won five gold medals, including a record fourth straight 200m IM and reclaiming the 200m fly title.
Phelps repeated leading into, during and after the Rio Games that he would retire and stick to it. Technically, he waited until a month after the Closing Ceremony to make it official — taking his name out of the drug-testing pool.
Last December, a deadline passed for Phelps to re-enter a drug-testing pool to become eligible for the 2020 Tokyo Games. But, with the one-year Olympic postponement, Phelps, who turns 35 on June 30, now has until December 2020 to change his mind.
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