Michael Phelps

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Michael Phelps details Masters experience, nearly losing to 11-year-old in Q&A

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NEW YORK — Michael Phelps discussed his last-minute trip to the Masters, how fast he ran a 5K, Ryan Lochte and being a global ambassador for Colgate’s #everydropcounts campaign on Wednesday (Q&A lightly edited and paraphrased for clarity)… 

OlympicTalk: What can you tell me about how you got to the Masters and how quickly it came about?

Phelps: A mutual friend is a member. A buddy of mine called me Monday before the Masters [week of the Masters]. I have a ticket? Do you want to go? I have a plane. Do you want to go? I was like, awesome, I’m going to the Masters for the first time.

It was the whole experience. I went to Tbonz, had the steak. The boys told me that John Daly‘s trailer is up the road. I’m like, I have to go and hang out with that guy. We went up. They said he was asleep, but we went up and talked to him for a little bit. The next day I’m at the Masters, setting my chair up on No. 16.

I’m getting chills right now. The chance to see that man [Tiger Woods] at that place be able to come back when everybody counted him out. It’s cool because I kind of have an idea of what that feels like, climbing back to the top of the mountain. Having a chance to see him do it on his terms with his kids there, I was speechless for two days.

OlympicTalk: How did you get the premium seats at No. 16?

Phelps: We started walking around the course and ran into a couple of nice people who had gotten to the gate early, at 3:30 a.m. They said, if you ever want to come back and sit on 16 with us, we have a couple of chairs. We got lucky, met a super nice guy working there that had some seats set up in some primo spots that we just had some pretty amazing access to. Like on 12, I could basically take a club out of their hand on the backswing if I wanted to.

OlympicTalk: You’ve known Woods and had conversations with him during his personal struggles.

Phelps: I met Tiger in ’04 in New York for a video game launch. Then didn’t really talk to him at all from there. Through a mutual friend, just reached out, tried to do whatever I could if he needed help, wanted to ask questions, bounce ideas. I’ve gone through a lot that other people haven’t gone through in the sports world. I just wanted to support. Tiger is one of my favorite athletes to watch, being a huge golf nut.

Being able to watch him and how in control he is of every single thing on the golf course. I feel like every step is so calculated and every little small detail he pays so much attention to. It’s something I can relate to.

OlympicTalk: Do you think Tiger knew you were there?

Phelps: I think he knew I was there because I was standing when he walked out of the clubhouse [before his round], and it looked like somebody said something to him about it, like one of the guys walking out with him.

OlympicTalk: A lot of people want to bring back souvenirs from their first Masters trip. Did you?

Phelps: I brought hats, and I brought the boys back shirts. I was very bummed. I was under strict instruction to get the caddie jumpsuits for the boys. They didn’t have their sizes. Boomer got a ball and a tee. He always asks me about tees and a new golf ball because he wants to hit balls in the backyard.

OlympicTalk: You have quite a golf history. Barack Obama took your money.

Phelps: Barack beat us all for dollars that day. It’s been pretty wild. I’ve probably played golf with a dozen PGA Tour players, ex-presidents, NBA players, comedians, boxers, actors, musicians. The list is a mile long.

OlympicTalk: Have you played with Tiger?

Phelps: He is one that’s in my dream foursome.

OlympicTalk: You ran a 5K on Thanksgiving. How did that go?

Phelps: That was the worst idea in the world. We did a turkey trot, and I think I’m still dealing with plantar fasciitis. I don’t run, and I don’t do anything outside of the water. It’s been a painful recovery. I don’t know if I’ll ever do that again. I did win it, so I think I’m going to retire on top there.

I had to push myself to get the win. I had to hold off, I think, an 11-year-old girl. And I’m not kidding. She was flying down the hill coming after me.

OlympicTalk: What was your time? 

Phelps: 25 and a half, 26 minutes or something.

OlympicTalk: Was that your first running race?

Phelps: I did one way back in the day. I was walking and [coach] Bob [Bowman] passed me. He didn’t really let me live that one down. I always offer a rematch, but he’s not willing to take it.

OlympicTalk: You mention your first Masters. Is there anything on your bucket list, sporting events or otherwise that you haven’t been to?

Phelps: We have a list of stuff at home that we’re still trying to fill. Nicole and I have a piece of paper with 50 things. We want to see the Great Barrier Reef before it’s gone. The biggest thing is traveling to the cities that I’ve been to but didn’t get a chance to see. Sporting events? That was the biggest one.

OlympicTalk: Do you know what the drop-dead date is if you wanted to unretire as far as getting back in the drug-testing pool?

Phelps: For me to even contemplate a comeback, I’m past it. But I think it’s six or nine months you have to be on testing list, then you can perform. You think, nine months, then you have to get ready to be able to make the trials cut, and then you have to get to trials.

OlympicTalk: But you don’t even know what that specific date is? That’s how unfathomable a comeback is at this point.

Phelps: I have no clue.

OlympicTalk: You’ve talked to a lot of different athletes regarding mental health and other struggles. Have you talked to Ryan Lochte in the last year?

Phelps: I actually did. He called me not too long ago, just wanted to say a couple of things to me. It was nice, really, to catch up. He seems to be in a happier place. I’m always somebody that never really shares conversations that we have, but I thought it was good that he could learn a lot about himself and take some steps to make himself better. I know it was very challenging to do that. It will be interesting over the next year and a half to see what happens going into [Olympic] trials.

Editor’s note: Lochte received help for alcohol addiction after an incident in the fall, according to his lawyer.

OlympicTalk: Was that the first time you two talked since Rio?

Phelps: Probably, yeah. Maybe once through text. I talk to [Ryan] Murphy a little bit. I talk to Blake a little bit. [Allison] Schmitty. [Katie] Ledecky. But as a whole, it’s basically Thorpey and Hacky [former Australian rivals Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett] are two guys I regularly keep in contact.

OlympicTalk: This is your third year with Colgate. Tell me something new about this campaign that you’re excited about.

Phelps: You start thinking about the stats, 900 cups a week, how bad we are as a country. We are among the worst countries in the world about conserving water. There are so many small things we can do as a family. With Earth Day coming up, this is a friendly reminder. With me going from a family of four to a family of five. With Boomer more talkative, understanding more. He is asking to brush his teeth. He is learning, and now with Beckett coming up, Beckett’s learning absolutely everything. It’s fun to work as a family to try to make a difference.

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Michael Phelps: To a naked eye, Milorad Cavic won — 10th anniversary of Beijing butterfly

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So many onlookers thought Milorad Cavic beat Michael Phelps in the Beijing Olympic 100m butterfly. Even Phelps himself.

“To a naked eye, he won the race,” Phelps said in an Omega documentary first published in 2016.

The 10th anniversary of that final — which Phelps won by .01 on a come-from-behind, half-stroke finish — is Wednesday night in the U.S./Thursday morning in China.

It marked Phelps’ seventh gold medal of those Games en route to his final tally of eight, breaking Mark Spitz‘s record for golds at a single Games. But it wasn’t without a little controversy.

Years later, Cavic jabbed again about the results that his Serbian federation unsuccessfully protested in Beijing.

“I don’t necessarily feel like it was an injustice,” the Serbian said in the 2016 film. “Mistakes were made on my side. There were things that I could have done better which would have made it a definite victory for myself, but my gut instinct is that I won.”

Cavic was arguably the favorite on the morning of the final. He broke the Olympic record in the preliminary heats, then was again faster than Phelps in the semifinals, when Phelps was coming off a 200m individual medley final.

After the semifinal, Phelps remembered walking down a Water Cube back hallway with coach Bob Bowman after the 15th of 17 total races.

“I said, ‘I’m done. I don’t have any more energy left. I’m cashed,'” Phelps said. “To put it bluntly, [Bowman] said tough s—. You’ve got a couple races to go, and you can suck it up.”

But Phelps was fired up by Cavic’s comments before the race, that it would be good for the sport if Phelps lost in Beijing. He woke up that morning and was on the starting block in lane five, right next to Cavic looking at him in lane four.

“What does a man do when the devil smiles at him? You smile back,” Cavic said. “It was a religious moment for me because I knew I was destined for this day.”

The race went out as expected, with Cavic leading at 50 meters and Phelps in seventh at the turn.

“I watched the NBC coverage of it, and [analyst] Rowdy [Gaines] was pretty much saying that I’m fighting for a silver medal,” Phelps said. “I knew [Cavic] always struggles the last 15 meters. That’s kind of my chance.”

In the last strokes, Phelps felt Cavic’s splash more and more into his own face. He was inching closer and closer. Then that last stroke. Cavic came up a bit short and glided into the wall. Phelps was even shorter, so he took one more partial stroke, slamming his fingers into the wall.

“If I were to take another full stroke, my arms would actually be at the halfway point of my stroke, with my face hitting the wall,” Cavic said. “He knew that he was behind me, and he knew that if he also had a long finish as I did, he would have lost. So his only option was to take another stroke but make it a half-stroke. It’s not textbook. It’s not something any coach ever wants to you to do.”

Phelps said that when he took the last half-stroke rather than a perfect finish, he thought that had cost him the gold. Each man turned around and stared at the scoreboard.

“The lack of oxygen in your body and in your head, it makes things very, very blurry for your eyes,” Cavic said. “It takes a couple of moments just for everything to clear up.”

“I looked back, and I saw one one-hundredth,” Phelps said, “and I was like, holy s—, that just happened.”

As for the Serbian protest and Cavic’s doubts?

“Well, the results don’t lie,” Phelps said. “That’s all I got to say. … Seeing the [Sports Illustrated] frame-by-frame and watching it in slow-mo, there’s no question in my mind that I won the race.”

That silver was Cavic’s one and only Olympic medal in four Games.

“I will be remembered,” he said. “It was the best and worst thing that happened to me.”

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MORE: Jason Lezak recalls Beijing Olympic relay

Michael Phelps still timed when he swims, coach jokes about comeback

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Michael Phelps has repeated in the last year that he feels strong enough that he could make a comeback, but he doesn’t have the motivation.

Maybe the 10th anniversary of Phelps’ eight gold medals at the Beijing Games this month provides the itch. Who knows. But so far, Phelps hasn’t been persuaded, even by jocular texts from longtime coach Bob Bowman.

“He’ll text ‘100 free?’” Phelps said, laughing, in a recent interview, according to the Baltimore Sun. “And I’m like, ‘Bob, shut up. Leave me alone.’”

Bowman, who recently apologized for inappropriate texts to retired swimmer Caroline Burckle in 2011, said he was not serious about urging Phelps to unretire, according to the report.

“Did he say I want him to swim? I don’t think I really do,” Bowman said. “There’s a delicious irony in the fact that because he’s been on Peloton and takes care of himself really well, he’s in way better shape than he was when he came back in 2013. And I see him swim, you see the stroke and it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s not really too bad.’ But no, I definitely do not want him to have to go through all that.”

The whole story is reminiscent of nine years ago, when Phelps’ mom, Debbie, needled her son about going for Rio 2016 after the Brazilian city was awarded the Games. Phelps had already publicly said he would retire in three years, after the London Olympics.

“When they announced Rio, I texted him, I’m like, Michael, 2016, Rio, 50 free, 100 free, just a relay,” Debbie Phelps said in 2012. “No, mother. I will send you there.”

When Phelps did unretire in 2013, it started with a text.

“Let’s have dinner soon. MP,” Phelps texted Bowman at the time, according to Bowman’s book, “The Golden Rules.”

Bowman and Phelps met. More from Bowman’s book:

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. … 

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.”

Recent social media posts have shown Phelps in the pool with retired seven-time Australian Olympic medalist swimmer Grant Hackett. The Baltimore Sun reported the two compete against each other and that Phelps also asks Bowman to time him when he goes to Arizona State University to “splash around.”

“There are very few times when I don’t try to get up and go something semi-quick,” Phelps said, according to the report. “It’s just natural. It’s the only thing I know, I guess.”

Bowman now coaches at ASU, and Phelps lives nearby with his wife and two young boys.

For those still hoping, Phelps did say in July 2017 there was a one or two percent chance he would come back, according to Entertainment Weekly.

“Very minimal,” Phelps said after a laugh then, according to the magazine. “I wanted to retire on my own terms and never have a what-if, and I’m to that point where I’m very content with everything that’s going on.”

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MORE: Jason Lezak recalls Beijing Olympic relay as 10th anniversary hits