5 Storylines of the Phelps Comeback
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
This weekend’s Arena Grand Prix at Mesa might as well be known as “The Weekend Michael Phelps Returned.” Fans are excited. The media is excited. Swimmers are excited. The return of Michael Phelps was an unexpected, but hoped for, announcement. In this mid-Olympiad year, the return of the most successful Olympian is the biggest news story of the year. Watch the Phelps press conference from Mesa live at 3:30 p.m. MT.
Instead of the typical 5 Storylines To Watch, here are 5 Storylines of the Michael Phelps Comeback. These aren’t the typical storylines regarding the Phelps Return. Most outlets have reported on the media/TV ramifications, the rivalries, and the money side.
Here are 5 other aspects of the Return of Phelps.
5. There’s no date on Phelps’ re-retirement.
No numbers limit Phelps’ return to swimming. For whatever reason, Phelps’ swimming career has always been defined by numbers. 2008 Olympics. 8 Olympic golds. 2012 retirement-no-matter-what. Now, there are no numbers regarding his return. That’s refreshing. There are no “2016 or Bust” mantras and no Olympic gold medal numbers to hit. There are no, “I’m going to retire on this date” statements. This means a few things: Phelps could re-retire whenever. He could re-retire next month. Or he could keep swimming until 2024. We don’t know.
4. Phelps might not necessarily make the Olympics.
Not to discount the greatest swimmer of all-time, but should Phelps’ comeback journey lead to the Olympic Trials, he’ll have to re-qualify for the Olympics. People say how exciting the Rio Olympics will be now that Phelps is back. But he has to make it there first. There are fast swimmers on the circuit right now. They’ll be faster in 2016. Phelps knows this, Bowman knows this, but many swim fans don’t.
3. Phelps: The one swimmer to stick with the same coach.
I can’t think of one swimmer with Phelps’ longevity who has kept the same coach for a career. Not Lochte. Not Coughlin. Phelps has stuck with Bowman, and Bowman has been instrumental in softly welcoming Phelps back to the sport. Remember: Phelps was adamant about retiring from competitive swimming. He didn’t want to swim in his 30s. Bowman, once again, deserves some credit for keeping one of swimming’s great talents interested.
2. Competitive angle of swimming.
Phelps’ media coverage has been too Olympics-centric. Media coverage has been too focused on Olympic gold. I’m not sure Phelps’ comeback journey is about Olympic gold medals. Maybe it is. Maybe it’s about money and fame and glory. But when you’ve won more than anyone, when you’ve accomplished more than anyone, and you still return? What does that mean? What do you have to prove? There has to be something more calling you back. I believe Phelps is competitive nature, and swimming – with its “one chance, one lane, one race” allure – called him back. I hope the media covers this daily competitiveness/wellness angle of our sport. Swimming is not just about the Olympics. It’s about just being in shape, being active, and racing every day.
1. Never say never.
Remember when Phelps said he’d never swim in his 30s? Remember when he also said, “Nothing is impossible?” Never say never. A few people predicted this return. A few writers speculated that Phelps was too young to retire, and swimming was too alluring to stay away. Personally, I believe we’re witnessing swimmers sticking with this sport longer because it’s non-impact. It’s not football. It’s not basketball. While the time and intensity requirements remain high (or higher) than other sports, we’re discovering more and more swimmers competing later in their lives than ever before. Phelps retired relatively young. He still has more in the tank. And we’re about to see how much more.
Watch the live webcast from Mesa Thursday - Saturday with prelims at 10 a.m. MT and finals at 6 p.m. MT. Universal Sports will broadcast live finals coverage on Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. MT.