OMAHA, US: Michael Phelps, aiming to add a fitting finale to his stunning Olympic career in Rio, will start this week with the familiar frenzy of the US Olympic swimming trials.
Even with 18 gold among his astonishing 22 Olympic medals, Phelps said Saturday that “nobody is a lock” to make the American team for Rio de Janeiro.
“More pressure here than the Olympics for sure,” Phelps said of the trials, where the top two in each individual event will make the team.
“It’s harder here. Nobody is a shoo-in and nobody is a lock.”
Phelps has come through four prior trials with flying colors, making his first Olympic team at the age of 15 in 2000.
There followed an eight-medal haul, including six gold, in Athens in 2004, and his zenith in Beijing 2008, where he won an unprecedented eight gold medals.
Along the way his cross-over appeal helped enable USA Swimming to transform the trials into what executive director Chuck Wielgus calls their Super Bowl — complete with 14,000-strong crowds at every session and on-deck fireworks.
But Phelps’s last Olympic campaign left a sour taste — despite yielding another four gold among six medals in London.
“I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing,” Phelps says of 2012. “I sure as hell wasn’t training. I don’t like allowing myself to do that, and that was something that haunted me for a while.”
Things are different now. Phelps has emerged from the post-London period of turmoil that included a drink driving charge and rehab with strengthened family ties — and with new ones.
He and fiancee Nicole Johnson welcomed their baby son, Boomer Robert, in May.
“Fatherhood has been awesome,” said Phelps, who is bidding to become the first man to make five US Olympic swimming teams.
“When I’m holding him or lying on the couch with him, it’s just awesome being able to welcome a new person into this world.”
Phelps, who will turn 31 on Thursday, day five of the eight-day meeting, is delighted to know that Boomer will see him close out his swimming career — one for which he has renewed zest.
“I think I’m just happier, a lot happier doing what I’m doing now,” Phelps said.
There’s still work to be done, however, and Phelps and coach Bob Bowman approach it in much the way they always have.
Entered in five events, Phelps remained characteristically coy Saturday as to which he would actually swim.
Signs point to the 100m and 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley, with perhaps an appearance in the 100m and 200m freestyles to stake his claim to relay berths.
“I’m pretty much set on what I want to swim, and you guys will see the first event soon,” he said, expertly deflecting Bowman’s not-so-serious pleas for a return to the demanding 400m medley.