Michael Phelps: The Unexampled Journey of 28 Olympic Medals
Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya
Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas
He first got into the pool like most other kids do – just to learn swimming. But by the time he was 10, Michael Phelps had broken his first national record. And when he was 15, he competed in his first Olympic Games. He didn’t win any medals, but there was a learning in that as well, for a man who is now the most decorated Olympian in history.
In an interview to The Quint, Phelps said,
“For me in 2000, being a 15-year-old – that was more of a learning experience for me more than anything else. I was able to do a best time, and just get the experience of being in that kind of spotlight, that level of competition. And coming back in 2004 and having a different approach. Kind of being upset about how I’d performed in Sydney and not being able to get a medal – that kind of motivated me to really train as hard as I could for those 4 years”.
“And from that moment forward, that was the learning process where I really understood that it takes four years to really prepare for the Olympics, both mentally and physically. So, some of the challenges that the coach gave me really gave me the best opportunity to be as prepared as I could in 2004, and on after that.”
A Dominance That Spanned Over a Decade
And the long journey after, saw Michael Phelps compete in four more Olympic games – finishing on the podium 28 times and bagging a historic 23 gold medals. For perspective, Phelps alone has won more Olympic golds than 66 whole countries have managed since the modern Olympics began in 1896.
A dominance that spanned well over a decade – but the 2008 Beijing Olympics saw Michael Phelps at his ultimate peak as he finished on top of every event he competed in – taking home 8 golds. But almost as if to prove he was human as well, Phelps found himself lost after achieving unprecedented success in Beijing. Because… what now?
“Coming off of 2008 where I was really able to accomplish something that was unbelievable, something no one would have ever dreamt of or thought of... it was hard for me to find motivation after that point because that was my goal – to be the first to do something in history, and I’d done that. So I was kind of lost a little bit. And I wanted to be as far from the pool as I possibly could. I wanted to do as little work as I possibly could because I didn’t want it anymore.”Michael Phelps
“So that’s why for me, in 2012, I got the results I had deserved. It’s one thing super special in the sport of swimming – if you put in all of this work, you’re going to see the benefit, but if you just there on the couch and do nothing, you’re not going to see absolutely anything,” he said.
The pressures of training and the focus on being the best did not always just show results in the pool. They also took a toll on Michael’s personal life and reflected in some of the choices he made. At 19, he was arrested for drinking and driving. In 2009, he was suspended for smoking marijuana, and in 2014 was again arrested for drinking and driving. Phelps has also spoken about struggling with depression, low self-esteem and even contemplating suicide after the 2012 Olympics.
“I’m someone who always puts the most amount of possible pressure on myself that you can. So I’m always trying to hold myself accountable for everything that I do, specially in the training when I was competing. Just because, swimming is such an individualistic sport, so if I wasn’t training, I’m not going to perform well. So I put so much pressure on myself to train every single day as hard as I could. There was a phase in my life when I went 6 years straight without missing a single day,” Phelps said.
“So was it easy all the time? No. Was it fun all the time? No. But the goals and dreams that I had, were the things that pushed me through those times. Because yes, I wanted to quit at times or yes, I was stressed beyond belief at times, but it was what was inside of me and the desire that I had to do something that no one had ever done before. And that was something that no matter how upset I was, was not getting in the way of me accomplishing my goal.”
And despite announcing his retirement after the 2012 Games Phelps wanted more, and he returned to the pool two years later to make a bid for a fifth Olympics appearance. The boy who started his career with no medals in Sydney reached Rio in 2016 as a father and a husband and in front of his newborn son, Michael Phelps completed what was to be the most epic of Olympic journeys.
With emotions overriding the entire tournament, an emotional Phelps signed off with 5 golds, a silver and no regrets.
“I always wanted to be able to look back 20 years down the road and say that I didn’t have a ‘what if’ moment. And I wanted to take every opportunity to finish my career how I wanted to. And I think I gave myself the best chance to do that. And looking back at 2016, it was fun. Just to be able to interact with everybody on that team and most importantly to be able to see my family and my first-born up in the stands, it was just the best way to go out.”Michael Phelps