Michael Phelps has 14 gold medals and is only 27 years old, but he seems grounded and unphased by the spotlight and attention. Phelps talks to Details magazine about his bong scandal shortly after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, what he has to do to train, why he wants to retire and more.
On not having a day off for six years prior to the 2004 Games: “I used to have a thing—coach Bob [Bowman] and I couldn’t talk to each other before 8 a.m. because I was in a terrible mood. I don’t like getting up that early. Getting into the cold pool just isn’t fun. It sucks. But during those six years it was a sacrifice that I made to try to become my best. So yeah, in bed at 10 or earlier every night. Waking up at 6:30 every day. When I was a kid, I would do anything. Whatever Bob told me to do, I would do about 10 times better. I wanted to be the best. I still do.”
On retiring after the London Olympics: “As I come to closure on my career, am I going to look back in 20 years and say, “What if?” That’s something I don’t want. This is it. I’ve always said I wouldn’t swim past 30. I don’t want to be that guy who’s hanging on, but I want to reach my max potential. I don’t care how much pain I have to go through or the sacrifices I have to make. I’ll get it.”
On training: “It’s harder to recover. Going into the weight room three times a week, it can be harder to swim, it can be harder to hit all the times I hit back in the day, just because I’m older now. My trainer, Keenan [Robinson], uses Graston tools, these little metal crowbars. He carves them into my shoulder blades, my back, my knee, my hamstrings—wherever I’m really tight—to loosen things up. It’s pretty intense. Obscenities fly out of my mouth the whole time, and I’m usually bruised for two days after it. I also use ice tubs. And when I’m back home, I sleep in an altitude chamber set to about 8,000 feet. All these things help me to be close to my best every time I jump in the water.”
On the marijuana smoking scandal: “It was a learning experience. I’m the kind of person who has to go through the learning experiences myself. Somebody could tell me, “If you eat this much you’ll be fat,” and I’d be like, “Yeah, okay, let me try it.” Growing up, my mom taught us to make our own decisions, but also that you have to pay for the consequences of those decisions. I’m thankful for that. I’ll be the first to say I’ve made thousands of mistakes, but I’ve never made the same mistake twice.”
On getting “fat”: “It was weird going from the highest of the high, the biggest point of your life—winning eight gold medals—and then saying, “All right, where do I go from here?” I wasn’t motivated. I did nothing, literally nothing, for a long time. I gained 25 pounds. A friend of mine and I were playing football on the beach in Miami, and somebody got a picture of us and put it all over the place. And he’s like, “Bro, you gotta start working out, man. You are fat.” So I started going through the motions again.
On how he’ll exercise after retirement: “I don’t know what I’m going to do, exercise-wise. A lot of my friends are all into Insanity and P90X. I like playing basketball and golfing. I’ll stay involved in the sport through the [Michael Phelps] Foundation. We’ve been able to help almost 3,000 kids be water-safe, to teach them lessons like goal-setting and making the right decisions with healthy, active living. It’s always been a passion of mine to show these kids that if you put your mind to something, you’re gonna be able to get there.”