Michael Phelps felt chills run up his body and the hair stick up on his arm on the pool deck at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha. He took a deep breath. This time, though, he wore a T-shirt rather than a waist-to-knee swimsuit.
Phelps, who retired in 2016 after upping his record Olympic medal count to 28, is at Trials as a spectator rather than a competitor for the first time since 1996 (when, at age 10, he watched sister Whitney race.)
“Body-wise, I feel like I’m almost ready. I’m ready to go,” Phelps joked Monday. “Maybe put me in there. Let me do a time trial or something. It’s something weird. It’s like I know something about this time of year. My body, my mind knows something.”
Phelps is taking it all in.
He was seen hugging former training partner Chase Kalisz after Kalisz won the 400m individual medley on Sunday to clinch the first of some 50 spots on the team. Over the last two days, he also conversed with longtime teammates Ryan Lochte and Nathan Adrian, both vying for one more Olympic team in their 30s (Lochte is actually 11 months older than Phelps).
And fellow retired swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen, a teammate at the Sydney Games, when Phelps finished fifth in the 200m butterfly at age 15.
“Going from 2000 to where we are today, being able to see how far we’ve come, that to me is so impressive,” said Phelps, who swam his first Olympic Trials in 2000 at a 4,400-seat natatorium in Indianapolis. The CHI Health Center capacity is four times that.
“I think we can go so much farther,” Phelps said. “We have a lot of amazing people that can help us do that.”
One of them is surely Katie Ledecky.
Phelps continues to follow the sport so closely that he is aware of Ledecky’s rival, Ariarne Titmus, swimming incredible times at the Australian Olympic Trials taking place in Adelaide (and finals happening before dawn for those staying in Nebraska hotels). And so closely that he wrote predictions (that he won’t disclose) for Ledecky’s times at Olympic Trials and/or this summer.
Phelps, now a father of three, said he felt tears and was overwhelmed, “but in a very positive way,” seeing Trials from the other side for the first time as an adult.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a ton of emotions, more than I can understand,” Phelps said, speaking before Monday’s finals session. “Just because this is all I know and all I’ve really understood.”
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