Michael Phelps, superman in the Olympic pool, says he sees no role for himself in the sport after he quits: not as coach, mentor and certainly not as Comeback Kid.
“I’m done with swimming,’’ he said at the Omega House in London where the Swiss watch giant hosted three Olympic champions through the day, including former Russian great Alexander Popov and Chad Le Clos, the South African who beat Phelps in the 200m butterfly in these Games.
“Right now I just want to relax,’’ said the American who finished with an astonishing 22 medals, including 18 golds, spread over three Olympics. “I am in the happy position today to wake up one morning and say I want to drive somewhere or watch a game and I want to make the most of this.’’
When pressed as to why he wouldn’t want to teach kids and budding champions since he was such an iconic figure, Phelps said it requires a different kind of personality to be coach from a competitor.
“I gave my coach Bob (Bowman) a lot of grief, sometimes just for the heck of it,’’ he said, giving an insight to a coach-athlete relationship. “We’ve had our big disputes as he will tell you and I can tell you that a lot of time it was just to get him mad. For instance, sometimes I would take my cap off in the pool itself during warm-ups, which would really annoy Bob. I wouldn’t be able to handle anybody doing the same to me.’’
Being a champion, Phelps said, has to do with mental toughness more than anything else. “There is not much that the top level athletes do differently from each other, but some win others don’t.’’
He said he came to these Olympics feeling good about his form and because he believed that he still had something in him to make count. “I am glad that has been achieved,’’ he said.
Phelps was full of praise for South African Chad Le Clos whom he called a fierce competitor and somebody driven to succeed. “His relationship with his coach is something like mine with Bob; they bond well which is always a great help.’’
He also lauded the Chinese swimmers who had made waves at the Olympics. “They are coming along strongly and will be a bigger force next time,’’ said Phelps.
Participating in the Olympics, he said, remained his greatest achievement. “I love the fact of the world’s best athletes being in the same village. It’s an incredible feeling to rub shoulders with them. And full of interesting experiences too.
“Like, the other day I was walking in the village when I saw three women who were kind of looking down on me. I mean, I think I am tall, but I had to look up to them,’’ he narrated, laughing at his own play on words.
For, as is only too well known, very few walk taller than him in the pantheon of great Olympians: perhaps he is the tallest of them all.