Bamboozled Michael Phelps 'can't imagine what Olympic athletes will go through'

Updated: 26 March, 2020 08:09 IST | AP, PTI | New York

US swim great fears for the mental state of athletes given the Tokyo Games postponement

Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps has been open about his mental health struggles, even as he became the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. Now, with the Tokyo Games on hold because of the Coronavirus, the retired swimming great worries that some athletes may have trouble coping with this unprecedented postponement. "It's a total bamboozle," Phelps told The Associated Press. "There's such a wave of emotions. I can't imagine what these athletes are going through right now."

In an telephone interview from his Arizona home, where he is largely hunkered down like so many others around the globe, Phelps gave reluctant praise to the International Olympic Committee for putting off the games until 2021 while the world deals with the pandemic. "Honestly, my first thought was I was relieved," he said. "Now, there's more of a chance that we can beat this thing and do what we need to do to save as many lives as possible. I was happy to see them logically making a smart decision. It's just frustrating it took this long."

With the Olympic postponement now official, Phelps turned his attention to the world-class athletes who must deal with another jarring change to their preparations, even as they were still processing the cutbacks in training and lack of human contact. Since his retirement in 2016, following an unprecedented Olympic career that produced 23 golds and 28 medals overall, Phelps has talked of suffering from depression and anxiety.

He even had thoughts of suicide at his lowest points. He knows this is a challenging time for those who had their sights on the Olympics, which were scheduled to open on July 24 but now have been delayed by up to a year. "As athletes, we're so regimented," Phelps said. "At this point, all the work is done. We're just fine-tuning the small things to get to this point. Now it's like, 'Oh...we're not competing.' All these emotions start flaring up. I really think mental health is so important right now."

Phelps said the key to coping is keeping things as simple as possible. "Just control what you can control," he said. "We're in such uncharted waters. We're getting all these big questions thrown at us: What if? What if? What if? It's so hard to understand. We're having a hard time just wrapping our head around it," he added.

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First Published: 26 March, 2020 08:02 IST

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