Although Michael Phelps has been retired for seven years, continues to be the most sought-after swimmer in any aquatic competition which I attend. His extraordinary track record (28 Olympic and 32 world medals), his longevity (from Sydney 2000 to Rio 2016) and his achievements (the eight Olympic gold medals in Beijing 2008), make him an incomparable athlete. But he also lived shadows: andto known his depression and his problem of alcoholism, including his positive for marijuana. About all of this, and about Leon Marchand’s extraordinary world record in the 400 IM, he spoke at length in an interview with World Aquatics.
“In the 2012 Games -Phelps starts- I was not prepared and I tried to pretend. Mentally it was a challenge. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be, just say ‘okay, that’s great’. You are comfortable and relaxed. I have gone through emotional roller coasters every day. Throughout my career, many people have helped me be as strong as possible. Physically strong, but not mentally”, assured the one from Baltimore, who comments on the World Cups for NBC. “I would reject a lot of things, all my dark feelings and the things that scared me, because I didn’t want to show vulnerability or weakness in my competitors. Once I retired, I found that I couldn’t do that anymore. It wasn’t safe. It was not healthy. So I took some time. If you do that, you will be able to achieve everything you want. Because you are happier. Going into 2016, I spent 45 days in a treatment center,” he explained.
Before those ghosts appeared, the Baltimore swimmer was a colossus in the pool who began writing his legendary career in Fukuoka precisely at the 2001 Swimming World Championships.From that event, I can remember that my semifinal was not the best and I was scared. Franck Esposito and Tom Malchow swam in 1:55.03. I passed in 1:56 and had a full-blown panic attack. My coach, Bob Bowman, basically told me, ‘No, you’re ready. Go and do what you know how to do.’ At that very moment, I felt that he had confidence in me and I was able to relax”, explained the GOAT of swimming.
“What Marchand does is on another level”
On his return to Fukuoka he has seen how Leon Marchand, who also trains with Bowman, has taken away his last world record. Phelps acknowledges that “It’s great to see the sport change. Throughout my career, I felt like it was USA versus Australia. Now, each country is showing its stuff. I’m happy to see that. Does it annoy that they break your records? Of course! Especially when you’re watching! But my trainer is also training Leon. I spend time with Bob almost every day. I know what (Leon) does in training every day. He knew it was a matter of time before he broke it.”
Even Phelps, who broke 39 world records in his career and managed to hold the 200 freestyle, 100 butterfly, 200 butterfly, 200 medley, 400 medley and three relays at the same time, an adventure that a swimmer will lose four minutes in the 400 styles: “In 2007 I had a training partner, Erik Vendt, who was a machine, an animal in practice and he said to me, ‘Dude, you could go under four minutes. I didn’t believe him. The world record when I broke it was 4:11. I left it at 4:03. Now you have swimmers special enough to believe they can do it. One is Marchand”.
Phelps analyzed the race. The American handed him the gold medal on the podium and named him his successor, in an iconic image of swimming, Phelps’ farewell to his record chart after bidding farewell seven years earlier to the pools. “I know the preparation it takes to do that. I know how hard it is to do that. I can spend 30 minutes analyzing that race. Every aspect was perfect. His subs were insane. His punches were great. The second 50 breaststroke built it. And he had enough freestyle legs to kick 15 meters from the last wall. (Ian) Thorpe and I brought the underwater dolphin kick to the freestyle. What you see Leon doing is on another level, ”he settled.