Sunday 11 December 2016

Fired-up Phelps ready to make one last big splash

Matt McGeehan

Published 04/08/2016 | 02:30

Michael Phelps will lead the United States into the Rio Olympics Photo: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Michael Phelps will lead the United States into the Rio Olympics Photo: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Michael Phelps has never been happier as he prepares to lead the United States into the Rio Olympic Games.

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The 31-year-old swimmer, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals, 18 of them gold, was yesterday named the USA flag bearer for tomorrow's opening ceremony.

Phelps had retired after London 2012, when he won four gold medals, but returned to the sport he loves and feels he is now reaping the rewards.

So relaxed was Phelps that he, albeit in jest, did not rule out continuing until the Tokyo 2020 Games.

"This has been the greatest two years of my life for a lot of reasons," said Phelps, who recently became a father. "My emotions will be 10 times what they've ever been.

"To be able to have our first-born be able to watch - let's just say this just in case of comeback - my potential last Olympics, just so you guys don't beat me to death if I come back. I'm not, but I'm just going to say that.

"To have him watch my potential last races of my career is something I look forward to sharing with him. And also now being able to share the experience of carrying the American flag and leading Team USA out."

Phelps said becoming a father to son Boomer three months ago has changed his perspective after a tumultuous period. A conviction for drink-driving saw him miss the 2015 World Championships in Kazan.

"The biggest change it's given me a clearer head, especially in the pool," he said.

"I've been able to experience things I probably didn't notice or I took for granted in the past.

"This ride I've been on I'll forever be thankful for the people who have influenced me in my life to help me get through some of the times I've needed them.

"Also this guy (coach Bob Bowman) for sticking with me and not making sure that I stayed retired."

Phelps cried with joy after being nominated by his peers to carry the stars and stripes in his first opening ceremony.

"To lead our country into this Olympics is something I never thought I'd have the opportunity to do," Phelps said.

"When I was told I was selected I think I had the biggest smile on my face you could probably find.

"A little bit of emotion came over me. I probably shed a little bit of tears, just of joy.

"The honour and opportunity to do that is incredible. This has to be one of the coolest things I've ever done."

Phelps asked Bowman, his long-time mentor, for his thoughts on being on his feet for hours at his first opening ceremony, given he may be selected for the 4x100 metres freestyle relay on Sunday's second day. Phelps' individual events are the 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley.

"It's a no-brainer. I have to do it, I want to do it," Phelps added.

Irish Independent

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