The world knows him as the ‘Flying Fish’ or the ‘Baltimore Bullet’ or possibly the Greatest Olympian of All Time (GOAT) but very few know the real Michael Fred Phelps II. The United States swimmer is not just the machine that never ceases to amaze the world by his sheer greatness but, is much more.
Phelps has constantly fought with low self-esteem, low self-worth in his own words. Throughout his swimming career he personified perfection, but bubbling beneath the surface was a complicated relationship with his father Fred who divorced his mother, Debbie when he was aged 9. The most decorated Olympian of all time faced his fair share of troubles in conquering his own fears.
Phelps began swimming at the age of seven, partly because of the influence of his sisters and partly to provide him with an outlet for his energy. Swimming was more than a sport to him; it was his safe haven. When he was 11 years old, The GOAT got Bob Bowman to be his coach who took the role of a father figure to mould Phelps’ complex personality and navigate his passion.
After having won 16 medals at the Olympic Games and 8 golds at the Beijing Summer Games, Phelps’ frustration didn’t ease. He despised the image of perfection success created. Soon after a photo of him doing illegal drugs emerged on the internet, Phelps was suspended from competition for three months. After this, Phelps grew more suspicious of people and wouldn’t trust anyone. He was wary of everything.
Soon after the 2012 London Olympics, Phelps announced his retirement from the sport. Phelps said he wanted nothing to do with the sport, he was done with it. The retirement made him a ‘twerp’ in his own words as this new found freedom came at a cost. Eventually, retirement led to boredom and he asked Coach Bowman for a shot at the Rio Olympics. He said, “I came back because I wanted to. I wanted to do this for me. I’m enjoying the moment and I’m embracing the moment and taking it one step at a time.”
The ‘Phenom’ failed to deliver on his promise as he was caught drinking and driving. He was booked for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) on September 30, 2014, his second in 10 years. Thereon, to deal with the weight of the world, his family persuaded him to join a rehabilitation centre not just for him but for his family.
For 45 days at The Meadows, Phelps worked at his inner demons for the first time. He swam not because he liked it but because it was therapeutic and helped him regain control of his life. He rebuilt his relationship with his father following his stay, he proposed to his long time girlfriend Nicole Johnson who he now has a son, Boomer, with.
Michael Phelps has returned to the sport with more grit, determination and passion than ever before. He has won 4 golds taking his Rio campaign off to a flying start. With a race left to compete in, one cannot help but bet on Michael to win his 23rd Olympic Gold.
On his way to greatness, Phelps not just broke records but smashed them out of the park. The following are some of the bright spots of his celebrated career:
• He became the oldest Olympic Gold medallist in Swimming at the Rio Olympics
• He is the first in Swimming history to qualify for 5 Olympic Games
• As of August 11, 2016 he has won 21 gold medals out of a possible 25 medals
• Phelps has broken an Olympic record that has stood for over 2,000 years (152 BC) held by Leonidas of Rhodes by acquiring 13 individual Olympic titles to his name.