Michael Phelps won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, and after some bouts of indecision, he is gearing up for London this summer. Phelps was in New York on Tuesday as part of Visa's Olympic campaign and sat down for some one-on-one time with ThePostGame:
ThePostGame: What's the difference between how you train now and how you trained back in the day, before all the Olympic medals and accolades?
MICHAEL PHELPS: I think the biggest difference between now and then is that back then I was just trying to do as much as I could. Trying to put in as much yardage as I could, putting super high volume in. Now it's a lot more specific, working on the small things that end up making the big difference at the end of the day. The older I am, the harder it is to recover. Instead of high volume swimming, now I have to think about doing more flip turns or stream lines correctly, because races do end up coming down to that hundredth or tenth of a second.
TPG: So now it's more about focusing on the details of swimming.
PHELPS: Yeah, I won't say it makes it easier, but it's less tiring. And you need to be able to do all the small things correctly so that you're on the good side of the races.
TPG: How's your overall health? Any nagging injuries?
PHELPS: I've been able to stay pretty healthy throughout my career. I guess I've been kind of lucky having the training system, the people that I have: My weight coach, my trainer and my coach.
TPG: There's been a lot of talk about how important your coach, Bob Bowman, has been to your career. What is it that makes you such a successful duo?
PHELPS: He really pushes me. The reason that we work so well together is our passion. Sure, we have short fuses, but we both want to be the best that we can be, and we'll never let anything stand in our way.
TPG: What are you thinking about when you're in the water during a race?
PHELPS: When I'm racing, nothing is going through my mind. Just get in the water and swim as fast as you can.
TPG: So you're almost racing yourself.
PHELPS: Yeah, in a way it's just me against myself. I try to prepare myself the best I can, and I know that if I do that, then everything will happen the it should. Whether I get first or second or tenth, I'll be happy because I was able to accomplish my personal goal.
TPG: A lot has been said and written about the fact that you struggled to find motivation after your success at Beijing. What happened, and how did you get motivated again?
PHELPS: I don't know really. I was able to find the passion again. I can't really say one thing triggered it, but it was the hardest thing finding it. I couldn't have help from other people to find that passion. I had to find it within myself. I just randomly woke up one day and thought, "What am I doing?" I went through two years of pretty much nothing, just being lazy. I kind of felt, not worthless, (laughs) but kind of.
TPG: You didn't want to retire with regret.
PHELPS: I found that I still had goals that I wanted to accomplish, and I never wanted to have that feeling of "what if?" I didn't want to retire and look back at my career and think, "What if I did this different, what if I did that different?" That's something you have to live the rest of your life with.
So that kind of helped me get up and get motivated again. I started to enjoy working out and I hated losing. I was able to want to do it and have fun doing it again. I woke up and realized that I still have goals, and they're not going to happen just sitting around. That's why I'm still here.
TPG: How did your life change after Beijing?
PHELPS: I was able to do things that swimmers have never done before. It all goes back to the goal that I had: to change the sport of swimming and take it to a new level. And I've been able to experience things that swimmers would never dream of, whether it's hosting SNL or being on the cover of GQ or Time Magazine. The other national team members and I have really been able to promote the sport and have fun, and hopefully get a lot more people watching. I think we have.
TPG: What was the moment that you realized, "OK, I'm an awesome swimmer, and this is how I'm going to earn a living"?
PHELPS: When my coach said I could make the Olympic team at 15. I just said, "I don't know why I trust you, but I do." I kind of gave everything else up and just focused on swimming. And three or four years later I made my first Olympic team. And six months after that I broke my first world record, and everything else just started happening. I was just like, "OK, well, this is kind of fun."
TPG: Were there times when you got tired of the amount of work you had to put in?
PHELPS: There were times when I did want to quit, and my mom would say, "Would you rather bus tables and have a 'job' job or do something you love and enjoy," and I was like, "That's a good point, Mom. You're always right."
TPG: So ultimately the payoff is worth the hard work.
PHELPS: It's something I've loved for so long and has been a part of my life for so long. I hate dressing up and wearing suits, so swimming is easy for me. I just wake up in the morning, throw on a pair of sweatpants and go to the pool to work out for a couple of hours, and then I get to go home and take a nap. So I can't really complain about my life. (Laughs) It's a pretty good life.
TPG: What other sports did you play before swimming became your entire life?
PHELPS: I played baseball, lacrosse and soccer. I was decent at all of them, but swimming was the sport that I excelled at the most.
TPG: Who inspired you growing up? Who was your hero?
PHELPS: Michael Jordan, for sure. Because of what he did in the sport of basketball.
TPG: Are you a big hoops fan?
PHELPS: Not really. I watch it but I'm not a huge fan. Baltimore doesn't have a team.
TPG: Then why Jordan?
PHELPS: Just being able to watch what Jordan did was something that was a big part of my career. You know, not making excuses. Whether he was sick, had a fever, this or that, he still came out, was still a leader and still did everything he could to help his team. What he did for the sport, both on and off the court, he really changed the sport. And that was something I always wanted to do, and I'm not going to give up until I see swimming reach the level that I think is the highest point.
TPG: Being a Maryland guy, are you an Orioles fan? A Ravens fan?
PHELPS: I'm just a Baltimore fan. I mean the O's haven't been too great over the last couple of years, but they're a very young team and they're looking good at the start of the season, so we'll see if they can carry it through the long season.
TPG: They're in a tough division, too. The Yankees, Red Sox ...
PHELPS: The Rays too! Everybody in the division pretty much are great teams.
TPG: If you could go anywhere for dinner, where would you go and what would you order?
PHELPS: That's the hardest thing. It really depends on day-to-day. I mean, you could give me a pizza and I would be happy. You could give me Mexican and I would be happy. You could give me sushi; it really just depends on where I am. In (New York), I enjoy Catch, I enjoy Abe & Arthur's -- there's so many great places to eat here, it's unbelievable.
TPG: When you're not competing, are you able to go to a pool and just relax?
PHELPS: No. We vacationed in Hawaii for a week once and everyone wanted to get in the pool. I said, "Guys I live in the pool." I'd rather just sit by the pool and relax than jump in the water and splash around.
TPG: You have a new Kinect video game. What's your game system?
PHELPS: I really only play Xbox.
TPG: What's your game?
PHELPS: I've been playing a lot of Call of Duty lately. I find myself playing like 30 hours a week.
TPG: Do you play online and people don't know it's you?
PHELPS: Yeah, people don't know it's mine. I just get crushed. I always find myself getting heated, trash talking. And you know it's a 10-year-old kid on the other line that just demolished me. It's so frustrating. But it is fun, and I'm very competitive in everything I do.
TPG: Looking forward to London. Do you feel pressure from what you accomplished in 2008 at Beijing?
PHELPS: No. If there's any pressure, it's just pressure that I've put on myself. I have things I want to accomplish going into London, and if I'm able to do that then I can look back at my career and say it's been successful.
TPG: Have you decided what races you're competing in?
PHELPS: I'm not saying anything. Bob is the only other person that knows. My mom doesn't even know.
TPG: Any new strokes this time around?
PHELPS: (Laughs) I won't give away my secrets.
TPG: You're retiring after London. What's next?
PHELPS: I want to travel a bunch and see the rest of the world. I want to be able to spend more time with my foundation and my swimming schools. I'd like to learn how to golf and actually become a decent golfer. I don't know where the road will take me, but just to be able to enjoy myself, and love life will be pretty amazing.
See Michael Phelps featured in a new Visa spot:
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