MESA, AZ - After the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, 18-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps announced that he would retire.
Last week, he announced that he had changed his mind. And on Thursday at the Skyline Aquatics Center in Mesa, Phelps will swim in his first competitive meet since the 2012 games – the 100-meter butterfly – as part of USA Swimming’s 2014 Arena Grand Prix series.
“Nobody’s forcing me to do this or that. I’m doing it because I want to – I want to be back in the water,” Phelps said Wednesday in Mesa.
“I’m having fun what I’m doing, and I think (swimming coach Bob Bowman) and I can do anything that we put our minds to, and that’s what we’ve done in the past.”
A potential journey to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, could be the toughest test of Phelps’ career. By his own admission, he had gained over 30 pounds since he last swam competitively nearly two years ago at the 2012 Olympics.
“I guess my highest point was probably 225 (pounds), and I raced at 187 in London, so the weight came up pretty quick,” he said. “But I think last week I was about 194, so I’ve lost a lot of weight and been able to get into decent shape.”
Regardless of how Phelps’ comeback plays out, the world’s most decorated Olympic athlete of all time insisted he’s returning to the sport simply because he missed competing and being in the water.
“(My goal is) just being able to get into that sort of mentality of competition,” he said. “That’s one thing that I really love the most about it when I was really competing in 2012 and throughout my career. That’s something I’m looking forward to experiencing tomorrow morning, and I have an idea of what I want to do, but I’m just going to get in the water and race.”
And while some may be concerned that he’s putting his legacy of domination on the line, especially if he fails to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic squad, Phelps isn’t looking at his return to the water that way.
“I always have goals and have things that I want to achieve, and I have things that I want to achieve now,” he said. “In terms of tarnishing my career, I’ve said this before: I’m doing this for me. If I don’t become as successful as you all think I would be or should be, and you think it tarnishes my career, then that’s your own opinion.
“Time will tell, but I really can’t say it enough: I am enjoying being back in the pool. I was kind of antsy to get in the pool today and trying to do my warm-up – a post-travel warm-up – and get back into it, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Phelps’ 100-meter butterfly race is scheduled to begin at 11:42am on Thursday at the Skyline Aquatics Center. For ticket information, visit www.usaswimming.org.