Last week the whole Michael-Phelps-is-back-training story became a much bigger deal when it was announced he’d be competing in this week’s Arena Grand Prix in Mesa, AZ.
Seemingly, Phelps in the water isn’t a tale of awkward transition, but a careful effort to get back racing. According to the Mesa psych sheets, Phelps is entered in the 100m freestyle, 100m butterfly and 50m freestyle.
Fair enough, it’s only one swim meet and U.S. Olympic Trials are over two years away, but what if the most-decorated Olympic athlete of all-time stuck around for Rio 2016?
Too often we focus on the most recent of achievements rather than a body of work. Cliché: You’re only as good as your last game. This is an element of human nature that affects more than sport. (See: politics and what have you done for me lately). Phelps’ return, whether it results in more Olympic medals or merely an Arizona sun tan should be celebrated. An athlete is doing the sport they love. Passion like that can’t possibly detract from legacy.
Do you ever wonder why seeing elite athletes on the golf course sort of annoys you? It isn’t only because they get to play really exclusive courses for free. It’s because they one day just pick up a set of clubs, and after a few rounds can outscore you. Preparing for the Olympics is a lot of work, and even if Phelps has committed to a relatively lighter training schedule, he won’t be improving at golf as quickly. Which gives us all time to catch up.
Push the sport
When a rare standout like Michael Phelps exists, it makes everyone else better. Although he likely won’t swim the same array of events he did pre-2012, the Phelps effect could still be a thing.
More facial hair
Phelps famously grew his way around the notion that swimmers are either clean shaven or rock a big droopy moustache. In fact, Phelps did all of that and more, especially in the thick of training. Even now, he is often inventive, and seems to take pride in his variety of countenance.
He already has 18 gold medals in a sport where winning one makes you a legend. Just for fun, (according to this list), The Republic of Phelps is tied with Argentina on the all-time gold medal list. You could be next, Ethiopia.
Inspire the world
Michael Phelps would be 31 by the time Rio 2016 begins. That would stretch his Olympic career over 16 years. A shade over half his life. If he focused on sprint events, he’d need to adopt a Dara Torres type regimen. That kind of undying tenacity is inspiring, don’t kid.
Don’t forget that Ryan Lochte is one year older than Phelps and still swimming.
While he is an incredible athlete, try to forget Lochte has moments like these: