Michael Phelps: ‘It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what I’m gonna try’

Michael Phelps, his long shadow, the torso that twisted history - and the folk by his side all the way - all images by Patrick B. Kraemer

It is 15 years this month beyond Michael Phelps’ first world – and 15 years too soon, perhaps, to say how he shaped the sport of swimming. Rio 2016 may well turn out to be those swansong Games for a man who turns 31 this year. Legacy lies somewhere else.

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It is 15 years this month beyond Michael Phelps’ first world – and 15 years too soon, perhaps, to say how he shaped the sport of swimming. Rio 2016 may well turn out to be those swansong Games for a man who turns 31 this year. Legacy lies somewhere else.



The US has a weak team at present. Phelps should make any event he enters.


While the team is weak on some events Phelps would probably only be able to get a spot on the 3 expected events, maybe 400 IM (not sure) and 200 free (Not sure too, his free has been a little off)
No way Phelps would get the individual spots on the free races, the back and breasts.


Raphael, you mentioned the two events where I am virtually sure he will NOT get an individual spot. Actually I don’t think he will even TRY the 400 IM.

He will go for the 100 fly and the 200 IM individually, plus the relays. He might also go for the 200 fly and if he does, I will admire him for it.

100 back? Unlikely.


100/200 fly he can get easily, no one in US can virtually touch him on that event, and there is a huge gap on 200 IM, there is Phelps/Lochte and then the guys who could not medal on World/OG…

I think he will go for the 100/200 fly and 200 IM.

But based on his free perfomances, I would not be surprised if Phelps get locked out of top 6 on both relays..


Really, Rafael? I would be very surprised if Phelps didn’t make the 200 relay. At least according to USA swimming he had the 7th fastest 200Free for 2016 season (1.48.87) [and 10th 100Free (49.57)].

He should be fine to qualify for the obvious 3 events. I would like to see another 200Fly (and some revenge on Le Clos) but if he does get 3x relay duty, could understand sticking to just the 100Fly and 200IM.

(Luigi – I think Rafael was saying that Phelps could maybe get a 400IM spot, not that he will try it. Just based on the rest of the field.)

I would be interested to see his 200 Free shape and if there is any temptation at all to take it beyond trying to get a relay spot.


stabilo, I actually think it could be possible, 2016 many people did not swim, So I took 2015 times to check:

Phelps was 20th on US 100 free with 49,66, Lochte just before him with 49,44. Currently top 6 would be Adrian, Rooney, Dressel, Schneider, Chadwick and Conger (6th with 49,02) and we don´t know if US will take the top 6 on this event.

On 200 free he was 18th with 1:49:03, top 6 were Locthe, Dwyer, Rooney, Grothe, Reed and Pieroni with 1:47:30 to make the top 6 cut.


He is slightly faster than 2015 but not much, and we must wait to see how his free will be, Phelps himself admited before his free is “not quite there” and feeling “slow”


it don’t make sense for a guy with his history to try and qualify in events where he would not have a serious chance of medalling in Rio. so I think we can forget about the 200 free, Stabilo (if that’s what you were saying). Then again we are talking about a guy who made the impossible possible time and again, so never say never.

re: 200 fly, yeah, nobody can touch him in the US but it’s a tough, tough race on a 30 year old body and I admire him for having the guts to swim it again


True that 2016 season has not had so many swims so far, but then 2015 had world champs with full-tapered swims, so maybe that is unrepresentatively fast. Who knows. I am happy to put money on Phelps making that relay :). Yes will be interesting to see how both his freestyle events are.


Yes I also think there is essentially no chance of trying for an individual 200Free. Was not suggesting it would be any kind of serious consideration. As has been said before, the times have stagnated in that event and it looks pretty weak. (You can think that there’s some tiny temptation for someone whose textile PB is much faster than the current field. I justify raising the past of 2007 again because its in the article :))


I know but at the time he had an inhuman recovery. Imagine swimming heats and final of both the 200 free and 200 fly in the same Olympics – plus the other races, at the ripe age of 30. It could seriously hurt his chances in the races where he has a better chance to medal.

Felix Sanchez

I would be amazed if Phelps was locked out of the free relays, but there might be a question about whether or not he has to prove himself. There’s been a slight erosion of the American strict objectivity over these things in recent years, and Bowman (also Olympic head coach this year) was quite scornful in a recent interview about idea of Phelps proving himself for the relays.


If I were a betting man, I wold wager that in the US trials, Phelps will swim 100/200 free (for relay consideration), 100/200 fly and 200 IM.

I didn’t think he was going to swim 200 fly, and I still don’t think he’ll win it in Rio, but last year’s result certainly points out to the definite possibility he’ll swim it in the trials.

Felix Sanchez

If Phleps does have a hefty Olympic schedule – three individual, three relay – it will be interesting to see how his legendary recovery rate is holding up.

The fascinating thing is that for all their experience, even Bowman doesn’t have reliable information on the recovery rate of 30+ elite swimmers. In a sport traditionally so youth based, that information simply doesn’t exist.

It is the big question of how age will affect Phelps. We have plenty of evidence from other sports – and a bit from swimming now – that if one looks after oneself peak speed/performance can be achieved much older than 31, but recovery rate is the first big change in the 30+ athlete.

Given the performances last summer I would be fairly certain that Phelps can achieve the speed to win his core events, but will the rounds take too much? If he took the hard decision to focus on just too individual events, I would be very surprised to see anything but gold, but if he goes for all three things might get tricky. Perhaps getting locked out of the relays (one of which they’re unlikely to win anyway, and the other not certain) could be a blessing.


Phelps is Phelps, but he need to prove himself for the relay just like everybody eles, if he shows his free won´t put up the perfomance needed, he just can´t swim.
Imagine if on first day Phelps puts a very bad leg and US gets a Kazan day not even getting final?

Felix Sanchez

I think it’s just possible that that’s wrong Rafael, and he won’t have to prove himself. Bowman wil make the argument stick that Phelps is Phelps, and doesn’t need to… but it is unlikely – particularly given the recent freestyle times you’ve flagged above.

Either way, not much chance of Phelps doing a Kazan, because surely he won’t swim the heats.


Well, I think Phelps himself would not swim if he feels he is not prepared even if Bowman wants to put him there. First, because of ethical situation, second imagine if Phelps throws the worst leg on the relay and doom US Chances? His carrer will remain intact, but Bowman would receive a lot of critic and maybe even would be asked to step aside.

Felix Sanchez

Probably true. However, if he put in a good time before trials maybe he’d be ‘allowed’ to sit it out. Risk then would be no greater than normal.


In 2004 Phelps posted a 49.05 in season and decided not to swim the race at trials, assuming he had earned the spot for the 400 free relay in Athens. He was, indeed, put on the relay by the head coach at the time, but Gary Hall Jr was not happy at all with the decision and let it know.


ps by the way he swam slower in the final than Gary Hall had swam in the heats …

Lennart van Haaften

Yes, that was not Phelps’s best swim. Although he was not the weakest link, with Crocker (the s/c WR holder) leading off in 50.05. In hindsight both Hall and Phelps should have swum the final.

paolo rubbiani

@ThereaLuigi: 2004 Us 400 free relay was essentially ruined by Crocker lead-off over 50″. Phelps swam the second-leg and, already absolutely not a specialist of flying start, he had to swim in the waves.
Gary Hall jr, during his career, has been talking about.. everything (everyone reminds what happened with the Aussies after his blatant words.)
In general, Phelps has swum pretty well in the 400 free relay: often he has swum the lead-off (perhaps the most important leg) and I remind that at Worlds2007 he swam the quickest 100 free considering also the individual race.
At Olympics2008 he swam a great 47.51, second only to Sullivan and 4 tenths of a second in front of Leveaux for France.
Even at London2012, after that dramatic 400 im, he swam a nice 47.15 in the second-leg after Adrian’s lead-off.
And if someone reminds 2012 in-season times swum by Phelps in the 100 free, they weren’t absolutely fast times..
Anyway, it’s obvious (and also Bowman confirmed it) that Phelps, either just before trials or at trials, will test himself in the 100 free.
At the last meet in Orlando, Phelps swam 52.28 in the 100 fly, 54.4 in the 100 back and 49.58 in the 100 free.
Last August, in San Antonio, after tapering (and after he struggled in every meeting in-season), Phelps swam a 50.45 in the 100 fly.., so why not assuming possible that even in the 100 free (and backstroke) his tapered times could be significantly quicker than what seen in Orlando?
In other words: after what we have seen last year after tapering, I think that is a non-sense considering Phelps in-season times near at what he will perform after tapering.
Perhaps also for 100 free..


I think will be unlikely we will not see Phelps at 4x100free final.He is a very reliable leg.I believe he will be(at least) 48 low at Trials and 1:45/46 in 200free.

Ben Lafferty

The things he will not reveal until he returns to the realms of ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ are where the potential for the best lines between the fastest lanes hide in the undercurrent.

What on earth does that mean?

Craig Lord

What it says, Ben (what he’s really got).


It will be interesting to see how Phelps lands in 2016 – yes he is now an old old man 🙂 but the noises from the camp were that he is training better than he has done since pre-Bejijing. This is perhaps borne out in the times. Sure the 100Fly is the best ‘old person’ event of the 3 (?) but a lifetime textile best, and faster than Beijing, is a serious achievement. 1.54.75 IM is also crazy-fast. I would not rule out PBs. 3 rounds of 200Fly is draining (probably!) – but how much does better training than counteract the age? Not sure. I am with ASF in not previously expecting the 200Fly.

This debate has happened before but I always wonder how much of the age-decline is due to physical, and how much mental – just what is the degree where people drop off training intensity because to do it at top level from age 13 to say 28 is brutally tough mentally and most people can’t handle it for too long. And how much is natural physical fitness/recovery decline. I suspect that there is a bigger impact of the mental than most people think.

Phelps’ two defining attributes seem to be his Motivation Machinery, and powers of recovery, so it will be fun to see how things shape up.

Felix Sanchez

Stabilo, I think it’s not just a difficult debate, but there is a touch of chicken and egg to it. The ‘mental’ decline with age is hard to separate from the fact that the recovery is getting tougher. A given performance or training session can be performed to the same level as in youth, but the recovery is slower and more painful – that takes its toll mentally.

Greater time has to be spent on recovery procedures, yet with seemingly less benefit. There is no doubt that someone at 31 or older can set best times in the 100fly, but how well they can handle a series of maximum effort races is a tougher question.

paolo rubbiani

I think that who has followed Phelps’ career (3 phases: between 2001 and 2004 the “energetic one”, when a young Michael set WR also in semifinal, like at Worlds2003, or even after the Worlds; between 2005 and 2008 – above all in 2007-2008 – the “unbeatable one”, when Phelps really seemed unbeatable, in Hungary called him the ET; between 2009 and 2012 “the discontinuos one”, with great performances, i.e the 100 fly at Rome2009 vs Cavic, but very discontinuos in training and also in his will to succeed after Beijing’s feat ) is looking at this fourth phase of his career with mixed feelings: most with curiosity and appreciation for the GOAT, some – the “anti-Phelps party”- with a desire to see loud defeats in his last Olympics and above all the end of a story lasted too many years.

As a man, Phelps seems really changed after his second DUI and the near paternity, but as a swimmer he and Bowman will have to face the usual trade-off between “top-performance/chances of gold in a single event and try to win more possible medals”.

The likely schedule for Rio, three individual races (and the 200 fly in the midst) and three relays are a challenging target at Olympics for a 31 year-old: nobody in the past, at Phelps’ age, has attempted so much, but since 2004, in every Olympics, Phelps has been daring in his schedule: 5 individual races and 3 relays at Athens2004; 5 individual races and 3 relays at Beijing2008, 4 individual races and 3 relays at London2012 northeless a discontinuos training (and it was a clear error swimming the 400 im..).

I think that after the trials in Omaha, Bowman and Phelps will decide the final schedule for Rio, and we’ll see if they will be daring also for their final Olympics.


Well, Phelps would not go for 400 IM, so his schedule would be like this.

Day 2: 4×100 free
Day 3 he would have the Prelims and Semis of 200 fly, which would be a little tiring
Day 4 would be tough: 4×200 + 200 fly, if he is not 100% in these 2 races it will be tough for him and the team
Day 5: 200 IM prelims and semis
Day 6: Tough day with 100 fly prelims/Semi and 200 IM finals, being tired can hurt his 200 IM or his final chances on 100 fly
Day 7: 100 fly finals + medley if he swims prelims
Day 8: 4×100 medley final


If Phelps get tired from day 3, there is high chance that Le Clos and Cseh can beat him on day 4, or even if he is ok on day 4, or his 200 free leg will suffer or his 200 fly.
We saw Phelps swimming 2 races in the same session on 2014, it was one very good race the other were pretty much terrible by Phelps Standards

I don´t know the session order, but it is something to be discussed.

paolo rubbiani

Rafael, the order of races is the usual one: 200 fly final before 4×200 free relay (the last event of the session); and then the usual tough double on day 6: 200 im final and, with only one race in the midst, 100 fly semifinal.

No doubt that would be a very tough schedule.

About Phelps’ recovery, i.e. the real question on the table, useless looking at the meetings in-season, where Phelps is swimming pretty tired, particularly because of the workload in weight room, and also useless looking at last year Nats in San Antonio, where Phelps swam one race per day, and a total of 4 races (200 fly, 100 fly, 200 im and 200 breastroke) during 4 days.

Some indications, instead, from Panpacs2014 at Gold Coast where (with a nasty, cold weather) Phelps swam two races per day for 3 days, with acceptable results.

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