Michael Phelps is Coming Back

by Casey Barrett

Is it a rumor? Yes. Is it probably true? Also, yes. 

Well, that didn’t take long. It’s been less than a year since London. A year of luxurious victory lapping on golf courses and at poker tables across the world… One could get used to that life of competitive leisure. Or maybe not. Maybe it doesn’t take all that long to get bored of such diversions. Because here’s the word:

Michael Phelps is about to launch a comeback. He’ll soon be returning to training; in fact, he’s rumored to be arriving in Colorado Springs, at the Olympic Training Center, in the next few days. Maybe he won’t show. Perhaps he’ll read these publicized rumors and get spooked and insist that he’s still happily retired on the links. The man has nothing to prove to anyone. He’s the greatest Olympian of all time, regardless of whether or not he ever touches chlorinated water again.

However, these rumors didn’t just come out of thin air. The upper reaches of the swimming world are swirling with the chatter. It’s like the CIA intercepting red flag chatter across Islamic websites. It might be nothing, it might be just talk, but when there’s enough of it, you have to take it seriously. That’s what’s going right now in swimming’s version of the CIA. The folks in-the-know, the top coaches and swimmers, the ones just a degree or two removed from Phelps himself, they’re all talking about it.

If I hadn’t confirmed the likelihood of these reports, I wouldn’t be writing about it. This isn’t April Fool’s Day again. It’s May 17, 2013, just ten months removed from Phelps’s final race in London.

After that race, Phelps did indeed file his official retirement papers. Many don’t. Aaron Peirsol didn’t, back when he hung up his goggles. Plenty of “retired” former greats leave the door open that way. It means they can return to competition anytime they damn well please. Phelps wasn’t like that. Last summer it seems he really did truly believe he was done. Or maybe he knew no one would believe him until he made it official with FINA. In any case, because he filed those retirement papers, he won’t be competing anytime this summer. He’ll need nine months to give birth to this comeback. That’s how long it takes to come out of retirement, before you’re allowed to compete in any USA Swimming or FINA sanctioned competition. Plenty of time for those comeback notions to gestate.

It’s easy to forget how hard it is to live and train like an Olympic champion. Who knows, Phelps may indeed come back next week. He may try to be quiet about it, and slip back into competitive waters to see how it feels. And he may scratch that itch for a month or two before he realizes how satisfied he was in repose, on the links and at the poker table. Then it will be back to caring about making par and hitting the flush on 5th Street.

These are nice pastimes. Sometimes, with just the right shot or luck of the draw, there will be moments when that spike of competitive adrenaline feels almost as good as the real thing.

But can anything ever really compare to gold around your neck and a national anthem played in your honor?