Phelps is at peace with himself as he brings curtain down on his phenomenal career
The greatest swimmer in Olympic history is happy that he made the most indelible mark in the pool – this is the last time you’ll see me racing, he says
When it comes to relishing life’s golden moments, swimmer Michael Phelps would have had his fair share. And it seems that he wants every single moment of being an active Olympian, no matter how small, to sink in as it happens.
He was even keen to relish his final press conference at the Olympics and wanted the media to absorb the significance of the occasion, too.
“You guys won’t see me in one of these for a long time. See you later,” he said with a wave, more to himself than to the dozens of journalists from around the world who gathered to hear the farewell comments from arguably the greatest Olympic athlete of all time.
WATCH: Golden moments on Day 9 at the Rio Olympics
With that he left, within seconds going from swimmer to ex-swimmer; from Olympic athlete to former Olympian. Sixteen years, 28 medals – 23 of them gold, of which five came in Rio – and at peace with himself.
Phelps vowed that this time he’s truly done. Though he said it would retire after the London Olympics in 2012, he knew in his heart that he had an itch to scratch and Rio would be the place to ease the discomfort of losing the 200m butterfly four years ago.
Now a father to baby Boomer and keen to go into coaching, Phelps discussed a wide range of topics at the Samba room besides the Main Press Centre in Rio. Here are the highlights from the final press conference.
On his retirement:
“I’m in the best place possible, this [Rio 2016] is the cherry I wanted to put on the cake.
“When I came back [after taking time out following the London 2012 Olympic Games] I wanted to see how much more I could do. I don’t have anything else left.
“I have a new future – the list is endless of things I want to do. This is it. This is the last time you’ll ever see me racing in the water again. That’s why the emotions took over me last night, trying to wrap my head around 28 Olympic medals.
“I woke Boomer up [when I got back to the Olympic Village], which [partner] Nicole wasn’t happy about, but I wanted to hug my son.”
“It’s the most important thing in the world. Being apart from him for these past four weeks, from when I saw him last, he’s changed so much.
“I changed a diaper last night. It was so nice to see him smiling back at me. I want to be there every step of the way, I don’t want to miss a thing.”
On his own security, following reports that four USA swimmers had been robbed in Rio on Saturday:
“Every time I travel, we always make sure that everything is really secure. I have a team that is always looking out for me. I’ve been to Brazil multiple times and I’ve felt safe every time I’ve come here.”
On what the future holds:
“I want swimming to be a lifesaver. Too many people have lost their lives to drowning incidents and that’s a big passion of mine. I want more kids to be water safe, to do whatever I can to stop that from happening. If I can teach more kids to swim, then I’ve been successful.”
On whether his record of 23 Olympic gold medals and 28 overall will ever be beaten:
“I don’t know. I think the craziest thing is the longevity of my career. That’s why I’m here. I’d love to see somebody challenge it, we love to see records broken. How many years did people go thinking nobody could ever beat [Mark] Spitz [seven at the 1972 Munich Games].
On which of his 23 golds stands out:
“This Games hands down it was the 200 fly. That might be one of the greatest races of my life. How deep I had to dig, and how bad I wanted it back after 2012 [when Phelps was beaten by South Africa’s Chad le Clos. I’ve been on the good side of some of those close ones. As a whole, I don’t know, every Olympics has been so different.”
On why he has been so successful:
“My success is nothing out of the ordinary: goal-setting, believing in myself and not giving up until I get there. Sure, I went through ups and downs, in and out of the pool, but not giving up was instilled in me at a very young age.
“I was in pretty good physical shape for these Games but I had to get my mind right. I said to [coach] Bob [Bowman] I will never let myself get to 230 pounds (104kg) again. I will stay in some kind of shape. The last two Olympics it hasn’t worked, hopefully this time it’s a triumph.
On USA’s rivalry with Australia, and why Australia have underperformed in the pool at Rio 2016:
“Australia have always had fast swimmers. I guess I expected them to swim well. I have no idea what happened, but the talents there. I don’t know if I could give any advice. Maybe it was a mental thing.
“I read a book this year – I read another book this year – The Power Of Your Subconscious Mind (by Joseph Murphy), just to see what it was about. Always staying positive and believing in yourself goes a long way. Your mind is a very powerful thing and a lot of people don’t realise how truly powerful it is.”
On what he does with his medals:
“I’ll show them to my son, that’s for sure. They’re in a secret spot, not many people in the world know where. I don’t look at them that often. This morning when I woke up I looked at all the ones from this Olympics and I was just smiling. It will be cool to look at all 28 of them together that’s for sure.”
On doping in swimming:
“Obviously something needs to change, not just swimming. Every sport needs to look at what they’re doing. As a father, we have kids looking up to people and I think all athletes should compete clean – and if they don’t there should be a punishment.
“Somebody needs to step up and make a change. I don’t know if I’ve ever stepped up in a final and everybody has been clean and I think that’s sad. Hopefully I can help that in some way.”