The poster above my daughter's bed. No, not the puppy. The other one.
"And the journey begins today....Last workout in Bmore today....Time for some meets and fine tuning in Co in lead up for trials!"-tweet from Michael Phelps yesterday.
Okay, swim fans, it just got real.
We've known Michael's most likely retiring after London. He's been consistent since Beijing that London would be his last Olympics. There was about a minute and a half when Chicago was in the running to win the bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics where we thought, "he might stick it out for an Olympics on American soil." Phelps said on 60 Minutes last week he will go to Rio for 2016. To watch. It's been inevitable, every athlete retires, but this isn't just any athlete. What happens when the iconic face of your sport is no longer available?
I've been to meets with Michael Phelps in attendance and I've been to meets with Michael Phelps not in attendance and while I'm not a statistician I can tell you there's a difference in the number of people in the stands, a big difference. I think Coach Bowman said it eloquently in 2009 at Worlds when he said, "Michael puts the butts in seats." The moment we've all been dreading has arrived. The last Worlds, the last time in Indy, the last time in Charlotte, the last Grand Prix, the last Olympics. It's been a year of "lasts." So, now what?
Usually, the conversation turns to Lochte. "He's a rock star." With his outgoing personality, questionable fashion accessories and Ralph Lauren model good looks he seems a natural heir. If he wins gold medals in London, especially if he wins multiple individual medals, his profile will elevate considerably outside of the swim world where he's still remains a relative unknown. The question for Lochte is will he continue to 2016 as he's said he will? He'll be 32. Will his body hold up to the abusive training he endures? Or will he be like me after a beginners spin class slowly regaining consciousness while other participants look on in Lululemon outfits and expressions of concern? (sorry, off topic.) Will he move to LA and become a fashion designer? Only Ryan and his inner circle know for sure.
So what are we losing? A bullied kid from Baltimore with big ears, ADHD and a slight lisp, becomes the greatest swimmer of all time and one of the best athletes in any sport, ever. For those of us who have been lucky enough to see him swim in person, you don't forget it. You don't hear it on TV but in person the "Phelps Phlap" he does on the blocks makes a swooshing sound that reverberates through the whole pool. My father used to talk about being a young boy and seeing Joe Dimaggio play baseball; he could recall the sights, sounds and smells more than 50 years later. I wonder if my kids will feel the same way about Phelps, I think they might. I know I will.
So swim fans, group hug. Let's enjoy the next few months, no matter what happens. We're about to see an amazing showdown in London and it's always fun when the rest of the world pays attention to swimming even if it's only for a brief couple of weeks. Thanks, Michael, for elevating the sport and making history. Enjoy your retirement. Take a cruise. Play golf. Stop by the office and see us sometime, say hello.