There is literally no athlete as successful as Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete in history. He has 28 medals, 23 of which are gold. He has been the most successful athlete at the Olympics for four straight games, in terms of medal count. Although he announced his retirement after the 2012 London Games, he returned to Rio this past summer to finish his career “on his terms” and win an additional five gold medals. Phelps spoke this week at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit to share how he achieved his goals, and what he’s up to now.
On how hard he worked for the Olympics:
“I was willing to do anything that it took,” Phelps said. When he started his career, he went five years straight without missing a single workout—often, athletes might take one day to rest, but Phelps saw it as “52 extra days each year that [he] was ahead of the next person.”
On why he returned after announcing his retirement:
In 2012, Phelps said he was “done” with the sport. “You couldn’t really get me to the pool,” Phelps said. “I skipped workouts…I felt I was forced through the 2012 Games.” But after a year off, he “found the passion” for swimming again, and was driven to return for one more competition. His main focus was winning the 200 Fly, a race he had lost in London (and he “hates losing more than [he] enjoys the winning”). When he won that same race in Rio in 2016, he showed “rare emotion” because he had wanted to win the race so badly.
On the Michael Phelps Swimming Foundation:
Since retirement, Phelps has switched his focus to his foundation and water safety. As a child, he was a nervous swimmer, and one of his main aims is to make kids and adults feel comfortable and relaxed in the water, with the hope that it will help reduce drowning. Since its conception, Phelps and his foundation have taught more than 15,000 children how to be water safe. He hopes to have a Phelps swimming school in every state by the end of this year.
On whether he will return to the Olympics:
Unfortunately for Phelps fans, it’s a hard no. “I’m not coming back,” he said. “I came back for a reason: to finish my career how I wanted to.”