Michael Phelps has changed the sport of swimming forever and that’s putting it lightly. Phelps’ career as an Olympian is officially over and he’s going out on top. He appeared in four Olympic Games and became the center of attention in three of them.b With 22 Olympic medals, Phelps broke the mark for the most ever by a single Olympian. This is a man who is humbled by his achievements and will never forget how much fun he had along the way. Michael Phelps joined Westwood One with Jim Gray to discuss his emotions after swimming in his final Olympic games, his motivation after losing his first race in London, enjoying the competition he faced in the London Olympics, his career goals when he first competed in Sydney, Muhammad Ali telling him he was the greatest Olympian in being called the greatest Olympian ever, anything else comparing to his Olympic achievements and walking away from the sport of swimming.
What is your emotion now as this starts to set in?
“I mean it’s hard. There are so many things going on in my head. I don’t think everything has sunk in yet, but when it does it will be very emotional.”
Did losing the race the first night light a fire into you? Was that something you hadn’t felt in some time?
“I mean it definitely frustrated me, but I think the biggest thing was I started relaxing more after that. I was just more laid back I think after that moment than I was at the start of Olympics. It wasn’t the best way to start, but I was able to pick up some steam at the end of the games and finish exactly how I wanted to.”
I’ve never heard an athlete during competition say the word fun so much. How did you get to that point?
“I was just to the point where I was so relaxed and I just wanted to enjoy every single moment of these games. Bob [Bowman] and I just had fun preparing for this and we are just going to have fun here. The biggest thing was we were so relaxed. Just so ready to jump in the pool and swim and have some fun and call it a career.”
When you first got into the pool at Sydney what did you think would be a successful career for yourself?
“Well I always wanted to change the sport of swimming. That was something I always wanted to do and I think over the last 12 years I have been able to see this sport just take off and I always said when I hang up my suit if I could look back at my career and I have been able to do everything I have ever wanted there’s nothing better than I could do or anything else. That’s the best way to end a career.”
After a show we taped I saw Muhammad Ali tell you that you were going to be the greatest. What did that do to you?
“Muhammad Ali has said a lot of amazing things to me. He is one of the greatest Olympians of all-time. He’s one of the greatest athletes of all-time. To be able to sit here…that was cool. He’s such a powerful man and I have been able to spend some time with him throughout my career and just the things he said to me are moments I will always cherish.”
How do you feel about people calling you the greatest Olympian ever?
“I’ve always said I wanted to be the best I can be and I wanted to be the greatest and I wanted to change the sport and I wanted to do something that nobody else has ever done before. Looking back at everything I have done I have been able to do that.”
You’re 27 now and you’ve been to the moon. Will anything else compare for the rest of your life?
“Who knows? The sky is the limit. I’m sure I will have a bunch more goals and dreams that I am going to go after in my career outside of the pool and it’ll be fun doing that.”
Any of this bittersweet walking away?
“No. No. Not at all.”