Phelps doesn’t need your rocking chair

Robert Myers Sports Editor


 Athletes have this way of teasing us with retirement only to comeback for one last go around. 

The newest member of this club is swimmer Michael Phelps who began training last fall and will compete for the first time since the 2012 Olympic Games in Mesa, Ariz. on April 24-26.

Some might want to slam him for reneging on his retirement, but I applaud him. From the time he announced he would retire after the 2012 games, I have been eagerly waiting for this moment and am not one bit surprised. 

For this column, I spoke with SDSU head swimming and diving coach Brad Erickson who also was not surprised.

“I really didn’t think that he was going to call it quits after the last Olympics in 2012, that there still is that competitive desire he has,” Erickson said. “I think he just wanted to have some time off, because the last Olympics he did train really hard and it’s a grueling long haul to have the success that he has.”

Phelps is still only 29 years old, perhaps a touch past his swimming prime, but still way too early for the competitive juices to disappear. Did anyone seriously think that a guy who set an Olympic record eight gold medals in 2008 would just lose the desire to compete four years later?

Of course, he still has a long road ahead if he is planning on competing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Olympics. He would be facing two years of brutal training. Can the competitive juices push him to that, especially knowing that his legacy is already secure?

Call me an optimist, but I think he can. It takes a special breed to become an Olympian and do what he did, so if anyone can pull it off, he can. Were he to compete in the 2016 Olympics, he would likely be past his prime, but more and more swimmers have had success at that age in recent years.

“It [the prime age for swimmers] used to be about 25, 26,” Erickson said. “That was 12 to 15 years ago and then you look at the last few Olympics with some of the relays and some of our older guys at 31, 32 having the best splits of their life, so it kind of depends on what they do for training.”

In his first meet back in the sport, Phelps is scheduled to compete in three events: the 50-meter freestyle, the 100-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly. Though it’s way too early for me to make such predictions, I’m looking for him to add the latter two events to a couple relays and possibly compete in four or five events in the Olympics.

Erickson said that with age, swimmers start of have more trouble swimming the distances they used swim in training and he expects Phelps to focus more on the quality of the yardage he swims rather than the distance. He also looks for Phelps to swim shorter races in his comeback. 

If he does go through with it, I think the biggest loser in all of this is Ryan Lochte, a great swimmer who has had the bad luck of spending his career in the shadow of greatest swimmer of all-time in Phelps. 

Nevertheless, I think nearly everybody else wins, beginning with the sport of swimming and ratings for TV coverage. I know it’s the case with me and I’m guessing it’s the case with most people that we are more like to care about a sport if we are familiar with the athletes involved After all the memories Phelps has given us, how can we not follow him in 2016?