Phelps seeks Olympic do-over
OMAHA, Neb. — For anyone else, six medals would've been a marvelous way to exit the Olympic stage.
Not so for Michael Phelps.
When he looks back to the London Olympics, they sound like a total failure.
"I wasn't happy doing what I was doing," Phelps said Saturday. "I sure as hell wasn't training. We all saw that. I tried to fake it pretty much."
Phelps is all in this time, for what is essentially a do-over of his farewell to competitive swimming. The Rio Olympics are the ultimate goal, but first he must get by a meet that might be even more nerve-racking.
The U.S. Olympic trials, which begin today for what will be eight sold-out days of swimming at a temporary pool constructed inside the CenturyLink Center in downtown Omaha, determine the roster of the American team. Only the top two finishers in each event are assured of a spot in Brazil.
"For us being as strong of a swimming country as we are, I think there's probably more pressure at trials than the games," said Phelps, who with 18 golds and 22 medals overall is the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. "We have almost 2,000 people here, and a maximum of 52 will make the team, so it's a pretty small chance."
No one expects Phelps to miss out, especially given the way he's turned his life around since a second drunken-driving arrest in 2014. He underwent weeks of inpatient therapy, committed himself to sobriety, reconnected with his long-estranged father, got engaged and — just seven weeks ago — became a father.
His infant son, Boomer, will be in the stands with his mother and the rest of Phelps' family, too young to understand that his dad will be trying to qualify for his fifth Olympics but serving as a huge inspiration nonetheless.
"Fatherhood has been awesome," Phelps said, beaming. "Just being able to have my son, my first child, be able to watch me at some of my last competitions is pretty special. I'm sure he is not going to remember it, but just to be able to document that is something that will be pretty cool and be pretty fun to share with him years down the road."
Phelps has entered five events at the trials. He won't get started until Monday with the preliminaries of the 200-meter freestyle and the 200 butterfly. He's also set to compete in the 100 fly, 100 free and 200 individual medley.
Based on his program at last year's U.S. national championships, Phelps will be looking to compete in three individual races in Rio: the 100 fly, 200 fly and 200 IM. The freestyle events are probably nothing more than a means to ensure he has a spot on all three Olympic relays.
With his 31st birthday less than a week away, Phelps is likely to cut back on the program he swam at the last three Olympics. He competed in eight events at both Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, famously breaking Mark Spitz's record with eight gold medals in the Great Haul of China.
Four years ago, Phelps raced in seven events at London, taking four golds and two silvers, to go along with a disappointing fourth-place finish in the 400 IM. He retired after those Olympics, insisting he had no desire to swim into his 30s.
That decision stood for less than two years. Phelps returned to competition in 2014, feeling he still had something to prove after London.
More importantly, he rediscovered his love and passion for the sport.
That was apparent on Saturday, when he shared a laugh at the practice pool while working out alongside rival Ryan Lochte and another Olympic medalist, Elizabeth Beisel.
"I was actually enjoying myself," Phelps said. "That's what I didn't have in 2012. That was nowhere to be found. I wanted to get in and out (of the pool) as fast as I could, and I really wanted nothing to do with it. I'm just happier, a lot happier doing what I'm doing now, and that's why I've been able to be successful over the last two years."
Phelps couldn't compete at last year's world championships, his punishment from USA Swimming for the DUI arrest, but his performance at nationals showed that he was still the man to beat in his best events. His times in the 100 fly, 200 fly and 200 IM all would've been good enough to win world titles; in fact, he put up the fastest butterfly times since high-tech bodysuits were banned in 2009.
His coach, Bob Bowman, believes Phelps is in even better condition heading into the Olympic trials.
"He seems to be doing well in practice, and that's all we can ask for," Bowman said. "I think he's going to do well."
Phelps will also get a chance to renew his more than decade-long rivalry with Lochte, though not on the opening day of the meet. While Lochte is scheduled to compete in the 400 IM, Phelps dropped that grueling event from his program.
Their biggest showdown is likely to be on Friday in the final of the 200 IM.
"I don't want to think it's coming to an end," Lochte said. "It's just been so much fun, and it's made the sport that much better."