Michael Phelps today: the Olympic legend shares on mental health, his family, his swimwear brand and what he’s been up to since he set 39 world records
Michael Phelps is arguably the greatest Olympian of all time by sheer number of Olympic medals won. His 28 medals spanning five Games is unrivalled, and no other Olympic athlete comes close to his 23 gold medals.
The 36-year-old Baltimore, US native is built for swimming. At 193cm (6-foot-4), Phelps’ large frame, broad shoulders and big hands and feet, which act like fins, make his body perfect for his chosen sport.
Phelps made his mark on the Games starting over 20 years ago at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, when, at 15 years old, he became the youngest man on US Olympic swim team in 68 years (Ralph Flanagan was 13 at the 1932 Olympics). In Sydney, his highest place was fifth in the 200-metre butterfly – which would become his signature event – but that was the lowest Phelps would ever place in any Olympics.
Through the next four Games, Phelps would medal in every event he competed in except one, which was a fourth-place finish in the 400-metre individual medley at the 2012 London Games.
Phelps called it quits after competing in the 2016 Rio Games. In his final Olympic race – the 4x100-metre medley relay – the greatest swimmer of all time posted a 47.12 second run, the fastest 100 free split of his career, to truly go out on top. He added six medals (five golds) to his overall total in Rio.
Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, collecting 28 total medals in his career. Of those medals, 23 are gold, three are silver and two are bronze. He has 10 more medals than the next closest Olympian, former Soviet Union gymnast Larisa Latynina. No one comes close to his gold medal count, which is 14 more than Latynina’s nine, which is shared with three additional athletes.
Over the course of his career, he set 39 world records – the most for any male swimmer, according to the Guinness World Records. Twenty years ago, 15-year-old Phelps set his first world record, swimming a 1:54.92 in the 200-metre butterfly in the 2001 United States Spring Nationals. That was the start of a record-breaking career, setting 39 world marks before his retirement. Phelps still holds four world records: 400-metre individual medley (Olympics), 4x100-metre freestyle relay (Olympics), 4x100-metre medley relay (World Championships) and 4x200-metre freestyle relay (World Championships).
Phelps was once the king of swimming’s butterfly, but in the years since his retirement, his individual records in that event are no longer the world standard. Phelps set his first 100-metre butterfly record in 2003, but it was broken by Ian Crocker a day later. He set it again in 2009, but Milorad Cavic of Serbia took it away the same month. Phelps took back the record once again during the 2009 World Championships and it stood for just under 10 years before Caeleb Dressel swam a 49.5 in 2019, a record he’s held ever since.
In the 200-metre butterfly, Phelps first set the record in the long course in 2001, taking the title away from fellow American Tom Malchow. He broke his own record seven more times, swimming his best time of 1:51.51 in the 2009 World Championships. Hungarian swimmer Kristof Milak dethroned Phelps in 2019 with a time of 1:50.73.
Phelps has his own brand of swimwear and training gear. According to the Phelps Brand website, he “felt the swim gear available to competitive swimmers was lacking”, and he partnered with his coach Bob Bowman to bring their years of experience to the marketplace. The first Phelps product launched in 2015, and the brand was relaunched in July 2020.
In addition to his business, Phelps is engaged in a variety of philanthropy. He used his US$1 million Speedo bonus after the 2008 Games to set up the Michael Phelps Foundation. In the years since, the organisation has grown and currently focuses on water safety, healthy living and teaching kids to follow their dreams.
He joined the board of Medibio, an organisation that focuses on the diagnosis of mental health disorders, in 2017. In 2018, Phelps revealed that he struggled with ADHD and depression and now works as a mental health advocate.
In his personal life, Phelps has three kids – Boomer, Beckett and Maverick – with wife Nicole. The couple is also self-proclaimed pet parents to their two dogs, Juno and Legend.
With Phelps, the question may be what he didn’t accomplish. He won more Olympic medals, World Championships, US National Titles and captured more world records than any other swimmer in the history of the sport.
Phelps was named Swimming World’s world swimmer of the year eight times from 2003 to 2016. He’s also a four-time USOPC sportsman of the year, two-time Associated Press athlete of the year and was the Sports Illustrated sportsman of the year in 2008.
He has also been an ambassador for Special Olympics, and he received the Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion in 2019 for his advocacy work and openness about his mental health.
- Phelps set his first record at age 15 and still holds four, though Caeleb Dressel is the current record holder for the 100-metre butterfly
- He used his US$1 million Speedo pay cheque to set up a charity foundation, and became a mental health advocate after opening up about ADHD and depression