After ending his swimming career as the most successful Olympian, Michael Phelps’s next challenge is finding an outlet for the competitive drive that reaped a record 22 medals.
Phelps, who made his Olympics debut as a 15-year-old in Sydney, bowed out by winning an unprecedented 18th gold medal two days ago in the 400-meter medley relay, the final swimming event of the London games, where he secured six medals in total.
“The excitement of standing behind the blocks, looking down and getting ready for a race, that’s something I’ll definitely miss,” Phelps, 27, said in an interview yesterday with Bloomberg Television. “I am sure I’ll find that competitiveness in some other thing.”
While Phelps will leave a legacy for his fellow swimmers, his retirement will create a hole that may take some time to fill, according to teammates.
“He’ll leave a void,” three-time Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin, 29, said in an interview. “It definitely will be filled up, but not in the same way.”
Phelps, who secured a record eight gold medals at the Beijing games four years ago after winning six golds in Athens, has had an “insane” impact on the sport, said Coughlin, who won a bronze medal in London as a member of the U.S. women’s 400-meter freestyle relay team.
“The media attention and the sponsor levels for USA Swimming and for all of us, there is definitely a trickle-down from the craziness of Michael Phelps,” she said.
Having an athlete of Phelps’s caliber on a team builds confidence, said Ricky Berens, who won gold alongside Phelps last week in the 800-meter freestyle relay.
“He is the greatest Olympian ever, the greatest swimmer ever and to have him on your team is just great,” Berens, 24, said in an interview. “Michael Phelps is leaving a huge legacy. I have a feeling it will take a while for that to be repeated.”
Phelps said Chad Le Clos of South Africa has the potential to become swimming’s next male star.
The 20-year-old broke down in tears after taking Phelps’s 200-meter butterfly title in London. He said the American was his idol and simply being able to race against him in a final was once the height of his ambition. Phelps showed Le Clos what it takes to become a multiple champion three days later after coming from as far back as seventh to win the 100-meter butterfly, pushing Le Clos into silver.
“Chad can swim any distance and pretty much any stroke,” Phelps said yesterday. “He’s a very talented, goal-oriented kid and when he puts his mind to something, he goes out and does it. He’s definitely up there.”
The sport’s biggest rising star may be another American.
Missy Franklin, a 17-year-old high school senior from Colorado, ended the London swimming competition with four gold medals, the most by a female. Determined to go to college in the U.S., she’s shunned offers from sponsors that analysts including Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director at San Francisco-based Baker Street Advertising, said could have made her a millionaire overnight.
“She was ready and stepped up, and she showed the world what she’s made of,” Phelps said.
While swimming will miss him, Phelps said he’s looking forward to “no longer staring at a black line” during training and not having to eat the same pizza and pasta every day for lunch and dinner.
“I’ve had a great career, and it couldn’t have turned out any better,” Phelps said. “To set a goal, and go out and achieve it is pretty special.”