How I Knew that Michael Phelps Would Not Repeat His Beijing Magic

When I saw Michael Phelps’ official Olympic headshot for the 2012 London Games, I instantly knew that the he was not going to repeat the magical eight gold medal count performance at the 2008 Beijing Games. Not with that face! Aside from strong semblance to a mugshot, Phelps looks disinterested, disheveled, and disengaged. He, with no doubts present or even in the vicinity, did not want to take this picture; if he did, then he definitely has a post-swimming career as an actor because he made me believe otherwise.

Though I am not an Olympic athlete (I workout four times a week and play in two competitive, intramural-styled basketball leagues…not sure why I just felt the need to justify my athletic prowess), I somehow understand Phelps’ relative lack of enthusiasm to take this picture, represent his country and continue his onslaught of the Olympic record books.

He is burnt out!

Many people do not know this fact, but this Olympic tour is Phelps’ fourth. At only twenty-seven years old, Phelps began his Olympic career at the tender age of fifteen. Fifteen! And he has paid the mental and emotional price for it.

Consider the following facts:

  • 12,000-calorie-a-day diet
  • Daily menu (he eats all) includes:Breakfast: Three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. Two cups of coffee. One five-egg omelet. One bowl of grits. Three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar. Three chocolate-chip pancakes.

    Lunch: One pound of enriched pasta. Two large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo on white bread. Energy drinks packing 1,000 calories.

    Dinner: One pound of pasta. An entire pizza. More energy drinks.

  • Five-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week exercise regimen
  • Sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber to simulate high altitudes

Imagine doing all this and much more for the last twelve years of your life. True, it is a choice that he made and he has undoubtedly reaped the benefits (over 39 world records, 17 Olympic medals, and countless honors and accolades). Yet, that picture highlights the question that few ever consider: At what cost?

I am not Michael Phelps so I am not sure of the answer to that personal question. Yet, I can only imagine the amount of sacrifices he and his family has made and endured for his success. As a contemporary, with the daunting ’30’ within plain view, I imagine that Phelps is contemplating what he has done thus far and what he will do moving forward. He has already stated that London will be his last Olympic stop, his proverbial swan song at age 27. I often worry about athletes and entertainers who reach their professional climax at such young ages: gymnasts who are considered over the hill at 18 16 or basketball players who are considered the walking dead at 35. There is so much more life to live and for many the absence of the spotlight hurts the most.

I believe that Michael Phelps will love to be out of the nation’s gaze as he inches toward his thirties. Though he will forever be emblazoned in our collective memory for the thrills and pride he provided over his career, I hope that he finds some relative peace and is able to do something that he is passionate about as he prepares to make the mid-career transition.

Thank you and, more importantly, best of luck to you, Michael Phelps.



3 thoughts on “How I Knew that Michael Phelps Would Not Repeat His Beijing Magic

  1. I just watched Michael Phelps win his 16th gold Olympic medal. When I saw his mom cheering for him she looked both very happy (naturally) but also somewhat tired. I asked myself what the price for raising such a phenomenal athlete must be, googled “Michael Phelps” and landed on our article. Wonderfully written whilst posing many valid questions for the cost the world pays to be “the best”. Because your analysis goes much beyond the private case of Phelps.
    Anyway – great swimming on Phelps, and great writing on you!

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