Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fighting Water with Fire Phelps' Passion for Swimming Has Been Relit

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fighting Water with Fire Phelps' Passion for Swimming Has Been Relit

Article excerpt

DALLAS

In the inevitable aftermath of eight gold medals in a single Olympics, Michael Phelps learned a hard lesson about winding down in the TMZ generation.

The world's most golden swimmer took a week, a month -- heck, most of an entire year -- away from the practice pool. He hung around with friends who thought it was cool to post party pictures of him smoking pot.

And lastly, but far from leastly, he saw his cape of nautical invincibility take a Kryptonian hit.

Get in the pool, his longtime coach Bob Bowman told him and told him.

But as Phelps explained at Sunday's U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit, "Really, after 2008 I just didn't want to do it. I knew deep down inside I wanted to, but I probably just didn't want to put in the work.

"There were times when I just wouldn't come to practice. It didn't excite me. It wasn't interesting. I was just going through the motions."

Olympians are older than ever, a casual check of the impending U.S. rosters tells us. But there are no GPS directions for where to turn after winning eight gold medals in China and 16 total medals spread over three Olympic Games.

"That was something I just had to find for myself," Phelps said. "But once I found it, I enjoyed coming to workouts. It wasn't like they were pulling my hair or kicking and screaming to get me to come."

Phelps has explained his self-imposed hiatus in esoteric terms. "Tired of it all" seems as good an excuse as any for a then-23-year- old millionaire. (Phelps turns 27 in June.)

Hidden between his explanations, though, seems to be the blunt discovery that swimming will always define Michael Phelps.

He missed it. He missed his friends, the ones that always smelled like chlorine. And he missed the finish line, especially when it seemed to be drifting further and further away.

In the months since Beijing, a Phelps with varying degrees of commitment lost races to both Germany's Paul Biedermann and U.S. teammate Ryan Lochte. The latter remains a rival and an ongoing threat to Phelps' domination at the coming London Olympics.

A goading Lochte said recently that Phelps "would be dumb" not to swim the 400 individual medley in London. …

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