He may have been the greatest swimmer ever whose exploits in the pool include smashing almost all world records, but as a kid, Michael Phelps dreaded the water.
“I was somebody who was afraid to face the water as a kid, I guess I overcame that fear pretty fast,” Phelps, the greatest Olympic athlete, said at an event organised by private equity fund Truenorth on late Wednesday.
Phelps, who has had 23 Olympic golds, including the record-making haul of eight at Beijing in 2008, said many children are like him, who are afraid of water, and that a non-profit initiative started by him a decade ago has so far taught 30,000 children about swimming.
Phelps recounted he had only 70 minutes between two competitions the 200-metre freestyle and anchoring the US team to a victory in the 800-metre relay – and had to manage a cool-down and a 400-metre warm up for the next event after squeezing-in time for medal presentation for the first event.
“I just ran around the venue and made it in time for the start of the next race,” he said.
He rewarded himself with a break a life first when he had taken time off after the 2008 games but contractual commitments with sponsors made him return to competitive swimming.
Phelps admitted that he was “faking it”, not giving his best and underlined that the results are there to see for everyone – he won four golds at the London 2012 games.
“It (the comeback) was for me. And that was the only reason I was coming back. I wanted to come back because I wanted to finish on my terms, I wanted to retire from the sport and be able to hang up my suit the way I wanted to,” Phelps said.
The only way to achieve this was the perfection in training sought by his long-time coach Bob Bowman, he added.
All through his career, Phelps said, he tried to be competitive, aim high and never rest on laurels.
“As a kid growing up, I wanted that feeling of winning an Olympic gold medal, breaking a world record and becoming a professional athlete. By 18, I had accomplished all three,” he said, adding that he continued despite all this till hanging up the suit after the Rio games in 2016.
“I despised losing in anything I did. I hate losing more than I like winning,” he said.