Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps keeps close eye on swimming’s new international stars

Michael Phelps
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Michael Phelps believes time is ticking on his last remaining individual world record.

Phelps has held the world record in the 400m individual medley since 2002. His lowered it eight times total, ultimately to 4 minutes, 3.84 seconds at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“Hopefully, maybe fingers crossed, I’m going to be greedy and try to keep that record for one more year,” he said in a sitdown interview in France on Thursday.

Nobody swum within a second of it until this past June. That’s when France’s Léon Marchand, a 20-year-old pupil of Phelps’ career-long coach Bob Bowman, rattled Phelps’ time. He went under world record pace through 350 meters before falling 44 hundredths shy of it at the world championships.

“I’m excited to see a kid come up and challenge that record,” Phelps said. “That’s what I want. I would love that.”

Marchand is a student-athlete at Arizona State. Phelps lives in Arizona. Marchand said at worlds in June that they have not met, but they have messaged.

“He reminds me a lot of myself with the competitiveness when you get into it, kind of a dogfight in a race,” Phelps said. “He doesn’t lose many of those.”

The ultra-competitive Phelps may have motivation for his world record to last one more year. If it makes it through next June, he will break the record for longest time holding the world record in an individual Olympic swimming event since World War II, according to Swimming Stats.

The next world championships are in July. Marchand is also preparing for an experience that Phelps never had — a home Olympics in Paris in 2024.

“To be able to swim here, on your home soil, I will say I am jealous,” Phelps said.

Phelps believes another world record is on borrowed time — the 200m freestyle held by German Paul Biedermann since 2009 (1:42.00).

“If there’s one person on the planet that goes under 1:42 in the 200m free, it’s probably Popovici,” he said.

Phelps was referring to David Popovici, the Romanian phenom who just turned 18, one month after breaking a 13-year-old world record in the 100m free (46.86). Over three meets this summer, Popovici swam six of the 20 fastest 100m free times in history.

“I mean, the kid went 46.9, 47.0, 47.0, 47.1, 47.1, 47.2 in the 100m frees this year,” Phelps said. “I pay attention to all that stuff.”

In his Olympic debut in Tokyo, Popovici finished higher in the 200m free (fourth) than the 100m (seventh).

Last month, he swam the fourth-fastest 200m free time in history — 1:42.97. That was one hundredth off Phelps’ personal best in the event, which Phelps dubbed his best race of his eight-gold-medal performance at the 2008 Beijing Games.

“To see somebody swim as efficiently as he does, his stroke is very good,” Phelps said. “It’s just a matter of time before he gets even stronger and swims even faster.”

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What Michael Phelps told the University of Alabama football team

Michael Phelps
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Michael Phelps visited the University of Alabama football team for a preseason pep talk, which was shared by the program on social media last week.

Phelps, who took classes while training at the University of Michigan in the mid-2000s and trained for the final year of his career at Arizona State, has football connections. He has counted retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis as a close friend.

Phelps considered trying out for his high school football team, but it wasn’t feasible given the time necessary for his burgeoning career in swimming, which for years meant seven-days-per-week training.

The speech transcript:

Well, I’m going to open up with a quote. It’s one of my favorite quotes. “Actions speak louder than words.” That literally is what defines my career. I made my first Olympic team, 15 years old. I got fifth place. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t satisfied. They gave me a piece of paper that said, congratulations, you participated. That piece of paper motivated me for that whole next four years. I said, there’s not a shot in hell, this is ever going to happen again. My very first [Olympic] race, I did not medal. And then in 2012, I had one race I didn’t medal. I can go back and look at those races because I want to make sure that feeling stays with me until the next time I have a chance to get out there to do the same thing again. From 2002 to 2008, guess how many days I took off. In those six years, guess how many days I took off. None. Zero. Why? I wanted something that nobody else had the opportunity to get. I was willing to do more than anybody else on the planet was willing to do. I got the results. I wanted to do it because I wanted that chance. Nobody’s going to give you that chance, right? You’re going to have to earn that chance. That’s all I wanted. I wanted to bust my ass every single day to earn that one chance. And wherever that took me, it took me. Every time I’d go into practice, my coach would say jump. I would say how high, because I knew there were hundreds of thousands of other kids that were doing the same thing. And they were not going to take that opportunity away from me. Y’all have one of the greatest, if not the greatest coach leading y’all every single day. He’s got the answers. But it’s y’all that need to listen or making sure you’re doing everything away from the field. Right? It’s not just what happens here. I can’t tell you that enough. It is not just what happens here. It’s the whole entire picture. You get one chance, right? You get once chance to do something special. Don’t waste it, please.

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Michael Phelps adjusts to new Olympic Trials role: spectator

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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.

SWIM TRIALS: Results | TV Schedule | Women’s Event Previews | Men’s Event Previews

“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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