American swimming star Michael Phelps admits ahead of the London Olympics that the last competitive moments of his career will be emotional, but after a lifetime of over-achieving all he wants to do in his last Games is have fun.
The greatest swimmer in the world will be gunning for gold in seven events; hitting the podium in three of them will make him history’s most medalled athlete. He won a record eight gold medals in Beijing, taking his tally to 14, with 16 medals of any colour, two short of legendary Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
But now 27, Phelps is taking it down a notch, taking a step back to enjoy the final lengths of his phenomenal career. “In Beijing we were trying to conquer everything and everyone,” he said, before turning to his coach Bob Bowman.
“Bob and I have been a lot more relaxed over the last four years and we’re having fun.” There is no desperation about Phelps’ demeanour, however eager he is to go out as a champion. “I’m having fun, this is something I enjoy.”
He claims records are of no concern as he enters the 400 metres and 200 metres individual medley and the 100 and 200m butterfly.
“You guys are the ones who keep bringing the medal counts up,” he said. “I’m here to swim as fast as I can and that’s all that matters.”
But there are times the soft-spoken “Baltimore Bullet” catches himself reflecting, prompting a lump in the throat. “I’m trying to relax as much as I can... I have had a lot of moments where, you know what, I don’t know if I’ll say I got choked up, but you know, kind of be more emotional because these are the last competitive moments that I’ll have in my career.”
Phelps won’t be drawn on his fierce rivalry with countryman Ryan Lochte, who is a serious threat in both medleys. But he is resigned to the physical agony of a man no longer in his physical prime. “It’s going to be a lot more painful this time around that it was four years ago, I can tell you that.”