Another year into retirement, Michael Phelps explains why he's 'glad' he's not swimming and how he channels his competitiveness

  • Michael Phelps is two years removed from competitive swimming and said he doesn’t miss it.
  • Since the Olympics, Phelps has become something of a mentor to other athletes, from winter Olympians to Katie Ledecky to Tiger Woods.
  • Phelps has also found passion in promoting several campaigns like water conservation, water safety, and mental health.

Michael Phelps has conflicting thoughts when it comes to swimming and racing.

Now two years removed from a successful campaign at the Rio Olympics, retired for good (so he says), Phelps says he misses the competition and the races themselves, but he doesn’t miss competing. He likes to be around the pool and the sport of swimming, but has no real desire to jump back into it.

“I’m going to go to a swim meet this afternoon here in Arizona, where a bunch of my old teammates from the Olympic team are going to be,” Phelps told Business Insider last Friday. “And I’m going to stand there, and I’m probably going to come away from it and say, ‘I’m glad I’m not swimming.’

“I love being around the pool, I love being around the sport, but I don’t miss that grind that I put my body through for 25 years to get myself to be ready to be able to compete at a high level. I’m very happy with, I guess, the other side where I get to just watch.”

Phelps, at 32, is now a mentor to the sport, to other Olympians, and to athletes in general. Phelps has recently been more open to discussing his battles with depression and promoting mental health. After the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang ended, Phelps said several winter Olympians reached out to him, asking for guidance in the post-Olympic transition.

He advised Tiger Woods as Woods battled injuries and hit dark times while trying to recover. Phelps said he believes athletes at the top of the game are wired similarly, and he understood what Woods was going through during his struggles. He’s happy to see Woods healthy and back on the course.

Phelps also lent advice to Katie Ledecky, who recently decided to go pro, ending her swimming career at Stanford. Phelps said he told Ledecky to be in control of her career, particularly in the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

“The biggest thing is you have to understand how important training is,” Phelps said he told Ledecky. “And I know she knows that. She’s the one person I would never second-guess to wonder if she was still going to put the grind in that she needs to be able to as successful as she is.”

And while Phelps is happy to be play mentor to other athletes, he still occasionally gets the itch to compete and push his body to the limit.

Phelps has become an avid cyclist, buying a Peloton, and competing on the network of cyclists under an alias and “hammering” rides.

“I just got off of a 30-day-straight kinda kick where I just wanted to see what it would do and how my body would react to it,” Phelps said. “And that’s another thing where I have the competitive side of me that really comes out … I’ve had somebody next to me racing every single stroke of my life I’ve ever taken in the pool. It’s good for me to kinda be able to push myself.”

Phelps, who spoke to Business Insider to promote the campaign “Every Drop Counts” with Colgate, said his competitive nature comes out in the work he does. He pushed himself to continue preaching water conservation, as well as water safety and mental health and said he’s been excited by the positive feedback he’s received for his work.

Despite being in retirement mode, Phelps said life hasn’t slowed down since Rio. In addition to his various campaigns, he and his wife, Nicole, welcomed a second son in February.

“I can’t really ask for any better way for stepping away from the sport by continuing to do stuff and talk about stuff for me that are meaningful.”

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