Michael Phelps will be facing quite an opponent when he returns to the pool.
The most decorated Olympian ever is coming out of retirement to swim next week in Arizona. It will be his first competitive meet since the 2012 London Olympics, where he won the last of his 18 golds and 22 medals overall – a staggering total no one else comes close to.
The swimmer’s camp is low-keying the comeback, refusing even to acknowledge it’s the first step toward competing at the 2016 Rio Games though everyone knows Phelps wouldn’t be going to all this trouble (drug testing, training five days a week) if he wasn’t gunning for the only meet that really matters.
By taking that approach, Phelps has left himself with plenty of wiggle room should his comeback fail to meet his own incredibly high standards. Rest assured, he doesn’t want to wash out like others who bailed on retirement, including fellow swimmers Ian Thorpe and Janet Evans. Both attempted to qualify for the London Olympics and didn’t even make it past their national trials, a sad epitaph to their brilliant careers.
Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, insisted nothing can take away from Phelps’ impact on the sport, no matter what happens over the next week or month or two years.
“His legacy is sealed,” Bowman told the Associated Press on Monday.
It should help that Phelps is planning to swim less-strenuous races and fewer events than he did in his prime. And he’s still only 28, far from over the hill as an athlete.
“He wouldn’t be doing this if he didn’t think he could do it,” said Dara Torres, who pulled off numerous comebacks and won three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics at age 41.