HTLS 2019: Coming back from the Sydney Olympics without a medal was a big motivation, Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps, the most successful Olympian ever, on Friday revealed the biggest motivation behind his decorated career, that saw him bag 23 Olympic gold medals.Updated: Dec 06, 2019 18:39 IST
Michael Phelps, the most successful Olympian ever, on Friday revealed the biggest motivation behind his decorated career, that saw him bag 23 Olympic gold medals. The champion swimmer was speaking at the 17th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit (HTLS).
“Coming back (from Sydney) I was pretty disappointed. I wanted to come back with a medal and not with a piece of paper that said I competed. So I used that as motivation and six months after my first Olympics I broke my first world record. Everything else from then just went up,” Phelps said.
Talking about his initiation into the sport, the 34-year old said that he had a fear of water to begin with and it was about overcoming his fears.
“I started in the water strictly for water safety. I grew up watching my sisters compete and I was always in the pool with them and my mom said I had to learn how to swim.
“I did not want to get my face wet at first...I had to get over that fear. Once I overcame my fear it became a lot more fun as I could relax in the water,” Phelps said.
Speaking about his experience during the 2000 Sydney Games, the champion swimmer said that it made him realise that he was not yet ready.
“I showed up for the Olympic final and I didn’t even tie my shoe. So I was really not ready, mentally and physically. It was a completely new experience and I think each Olympics I learn different things that helped me for the next Games.”
Phelps, who won 6 gold medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics, also spoke about his desire to win a medal for his country and how he trained hard to achieve his goals.
“I wanted to win as many as I could...I wanted to win a medal and stand on the podium and hear my national anthem play. It stuck with me for four years and it is the hardest thing when you have not won a medal. For me it wasn’t about chasing the medal record, but it was about doing the best that I could.
“I trained harder than anyone else and I was doing things that people dreamt of doing training wise. I was putting myself in a position where I would have the best chance to win a medal,” the champion swimmer said.
Phelps took the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games by storm as he won 8 gold medals to overshadow Mark Spitz’s long standing record of winning the most number of gold medals in a single Olympic Games. Talking about the process from 2004 to 2008, Phelps said that he wanted to achieve something that no one had done before.
“I wanted to do something that no one else had done in the sport and that’s what made me hungry. I just wanted to go faster, I was chasing times because I knew if I could do certain times there was no one in the world who could beat me.
“I knew my competitors better than they knew themselves,” the Baltimore-born star said.
Phelps also spoke about the time after the 2008 Olympics when he had achieved his dream and how he struggled to get himself back in the pool.
“After the 2008 Olympics I was done. I had achieved what no one else had. And I asked myself what next? I did not want to be in the sport and I didn’t want to swim. I needed space, I needed my own time...I chose to skip a week of practice here and there because I didn’t care and in 2012 I got the results that I deserved. We almost got away with doing no work and having a pretty decent Olympics.”
Talking about the making of a champion athlete, Phelps reflected upon the mental aspect of the entire process and the role that his coach Bob Bowman played in his career.
“I was very lucky to have a coach that literally worked and thought about swimming 24x7, and he prepared me for anything - physical, mental, emotional - it didn’t matter.
“When you go to an Olympic Games you have to conserve your emotional energy. For me it was trying to be in the process. It was easy for me to push through as I wanted it so bad...I think it is 60 percent mental and I was lucky that I had a coach who helped get over these things,” he said.
Phelps also spoke about his bout with depression and how he worked hard to get out of that phase of his life.
“I went through some of the scariest times of my life after 2012. There were times I didn’t want to be alive.
“Staying in my room after my DUI and not wanting to be alive made me think that I needed help.
“We need to understand that it is okay to not be okay. We are human beings, we will go through ups and downs...For me, my downs were some of the scariest moments in my life. I saw myself strictly as a swimmer and not as a human being. I had to find out who I was. From 2014 I went through that process and I was able to see and like myself for who I am. I still have days of struggle, I still deal with depression and anxiety. And I have accepted it as that is what makes me who I am,” Phelps opined.
Talking about his biggest inspiration, Phelps said that basketball legend Michael Jordan was his hero.
“Michael Jordan was my hero. No matter what he was going through, he still gave it all on the court. He did not let outside things affect him on the court. He changed basketball and I wanted to do that in swimming,” Phelps said.
Speaking about his life post retirement Phelps said that he wanted to keep working to educate people about water safety and mental health.