Michael Phelps Set for a Huge Comeback in Rio


Michael Phelps grinds out an early morning practice in his new training center at Arizona State. Screenshot from video here: https://youtu.be/Xh9jAD1ofm4

Jack Dalmolin, Staff Writer

The crowd erupted with energy as Michael Phelps began to close in on the Serbian star, Milorad Cavic, in the Beijing Aquatic Center. As the Olympians neared the wall, the tension in the aquatic center boiled over.  In a split second decision, Phelps took a short stroke into the wall just as Cavic finished into the touchpad. Every spectator in the stand whipped around simultaneously to check the scoreboard. The crowd exploded. Miraculously, Phelps had out-touched Cavic by .01 of a second to win the 100m fly. Phelps’s dream of eight gold medals was still alive.

Eight years ago in the Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps shined on the world’s biggest stage. He had the single most impressive performance in Olympic Games history, winning every event he swam and adding even more world records to his list. Four years later at the London Games, Phelps would continue his dominance. After 2012, Michael Phelps had 22 medals (18 gold), making him the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time.

As flawless as Michael Phelps seemed at this time, he fell from grace on September 30th, 2014. A little after two in the morning, he was arrested for going 84-miles per hour in a 45-mile per zone and was charged with a DUI. It was discovered that his blood alcohol level was .14, which is well over the Maryland limit of .08. Phelps was also arrested on a DUI charge when he was 19, shortly after the Olympic Games in Greece.

This DUI charge took a bite out of his comeback plan for the 2016 Olympics. USA Swimming handed him a six month suspension, including a ban from the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia. The World Championships are an important benchmark for swimmers aiming for Rio, as they get to see how they match up with the best in the world before the Games. After enduring a 45 day alcohol treatment plan, Phelps returned to the water, completely sober, with his sights set on his fifth and final Olympics.

An eye-opening story broke a few months ago following Phelps’s arrest. Phelps was once quoted saying he  “didn’t want to be alive anymore” following his arrest in September of 2014. After his alcohol rehabilitation program was over, he vowed to not drink again until after Rio, and, he returned to the pool with vengeance. It was recently discovered that Phelps had an ongoing alcohol problem, and spent most of his training hungover leading into Beijing and London.

Since he was banned from competing at the World Championships, Phelps swam at the Phillips 66 Nationals meet last summer. Team USA underperformed in Kazan, and Chad Le Clos, a South African swimmer who is Michael’s biggest rivals in the 100 meter fly, had some trash talking to say after his win in Kazan. “I just did a time that Phelps hasn’t done in four years, so he can keep quiet now,” said Le Clos after his victory. Phelps let his swimming do the talking back in San Antonio at Nationals, and he threw down a time of 50.45 in the 100 fly en route to a national title. Phelps’s time was one of his best in-season swims ever, and if he were on the World Championships team, he would have beaten Le Clos by .7 of a second.

It is no question that Michael Phelps has an uphill battle ahead of him as he goes into Rio, looking to ascend back to his throne. He is well out of his prime. However, there is something different about Phelps’s Olympic run this year. After eliminating alcohol from his lifestyle, he has seen major improvements in his swimming. He has been training harder than ever, and he has not swam this fast since before Beijing. With a clear head and a healthier body, nobody knows what Michael Phelps may be capable of accomplishing in Rio.