I have never been more convinced that someone so great is so “done” than I am about Michael Phelps.
Maybe when Karl Malone hung his shoes up he reeked of “man, that dude just wants to fish or do whatever he does.”
When Barry Sanders retired, you thought for sure he’d realize he had so much left in the tank and so much to accomplish. Given his personality, however, it became very clear that he was very serious and when he means he is done…he is done!
Usually when a performer is so great and such a competitor, it is hard to imagine them giving up their craft. Sure the training definitely gets old and the injuries mount in impact sports, but the high of winning and racking up accomplishments is hard to shake off.
Michael Phelps however seems to be a different breed.
When I watch interviews with him the last four years, especially over the course of the last year, it has been quite obvious to me that he is just kind of over swimming.
Every interview reveals burnout and lack of fire for swimming.
It reminds me of a burnt out teenager that has been forced too early in their teenage years to treat sports as a business and is sick of the sport.
He has a monotone voice.
He does not display any passion for his craft.
He speaks freely about how much he hates getting in the cold pool in the morning.
He more or less seems annoyed with the sport and “over” the thrill of winning and being a national hero. It makes perfect sense to me that he feels this way given his history.
Meanwhile, despite this apathy and lack of fire for the sport—that most Olympic champions usually need in order to withstand the rigorous training and sacrifices necessary to win—Michael Phelps was STILL able to extend his unbelievable records and win or compete in every race he entered in London.
How did he do this? I really am in awe.
It made sense in Athens and Beijing when he was locked in and seemingly passionate about his craft and had that Michael Jordan-like killer instinct every time he jumped in the pool.
This time? If he were any other athlete, I would have written him off.
The fire was not burning. His focus was lacking several times the last four years. Yet he was able to strike gold four times and add two silvers, both of which were close losses.
I suspect two reasons how this happened.
One, he is simply a more talented and superior swimmer than his peers.
Second, all the years of training, preparation, and sacrifice left him with enough in the tank that even substandard training rigors—by his standard—still surpass those of his opponents.
As mentioned before, it is absolutely amazing that he has been able to perform at a high level.
In the beginning, when he was a very young teenager in Sydney until this year, as a late 20-something who seems desperate to get on with his life and replace swimming dominance with normalcy.
Phelps spent the majority of his career in ritual swimming: four hours a day, every day.
Anyone that has swam or knows swimmers understands how monotonous swimming can be, particularly when training. There are no shortcuts.
Combine this with his pre-Olympic experience—also relatively strenuous—and it makes complete sense that Phelps is ready to begin a new chapter in his life.
With all of that said, Michael Phelps is done.
I do not detect the possibility of Phelps getting an itch to compete again, at least not one big enough for him to scratch.
Similar to his contemporary Kobe Bryant, who has said that he will retire before he has to settle for being just another player, it seems that Phelps the competitor would not settle for being just another swimmer who is not expected to win a race every time he jumps in the pool.
He simply does not love swimming enough anymore to train and compete simply for the love.
Although he is a competitor, I expect him to move on from swimming permanently. Especially now that he has surpassed all of his goals and re-defined Olympic success.
It is amazing that Phelps finished his career on such a high note. Now it’s time to say thanks for allowing us to experience dominance like it has never been done before!