Why Did Michael Phelps Retire Why Did Michael Phelps Retire

Why Did Michael Phelps Retire? 4 Details Unveiling the True Motivation Behind His Retirement Choice

When we dive into the world of competitive swimming, there’s one name that undoubtedly makes a splash: Michael Phelps. Known for his extraordinary feats in the pool, Phelps began his remarkable journey as a young boy following in the wake of his two older sisters, Whitney and Hilary.

Despite an initial fear of putting his face in the water, Phelps overcame this discomfort and was inspired by the performances of Tom Malchow and Tom Dolan during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.

But why did Michael Phelps retire? Was it a physical issue? Did he lose his passion for the sport? Or was it simply time for Phelps to move on to other things?

In the sections to follow, we’ll take a closer look at Phelps’ initial retirement decision, his journey back to competitive swimming, the motivation behind his return, his post-retirement goals, and our final thoughts on his retirement choice. As we navigate through Phelps’ story, we hope to uncover insights about motivation, goal-setting, and passion that can inspire us all.

Michael Phelps
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Why Did Michael Phelps Retire?

Phelps’ dedication and hard work paid off, making him the most decorated Olympian of all time. During the peak of his training, he swam about 80,000 meters a week – almost 50 miles!

His rigorous, specialized training routine, which included drills, underwater kicking, vertical kicking, sculling, and weightlifting, was overseen by his coach, Bob Bowman. This intense regimen allowed Phelps to dominate five consecutive Summer Olympics, earning him 28 medals, 23 of them gold.

But, post the 2012 London Olympics, Phelps made the surprising decision to retire from competitive swimming. This decision marked a major turning point in his career and personal life. Let’s delve into the details behind his retirement.


1. The Initial Retirement Decision

Even the legends decide to hang up their goggles from time to time. After the 2012 London Olympics, Phelps shocked the world with his decision to retire. He had reached unparalleled heights in his career, but factors such as a desire to move on from the sport contributed to his decision.

Phelps’ Decision to Retire Post-2012 Olympics

The 2012 London Olympics saw Phelps continue his reign of dominance, yet there was a notable shift. South Africa’s Chad le Clos had overtaken Phelps in the 200m butterfly event, a race that Phelps was known for.

In response to this, and with a desire to explore life beyond the pool, Phelps announced his retirement from competitive swimming.

But, Phelps’ decision to retire wasn’t just influenced by a single defeat or a desire to move on from the sport. There were other factors at play that shaped his choice.

  • His rigorous training regimen, for instance, demanded extreme dedication and sacrifices.
  • At the peak of his training, Phelps swam about 80,000 meters a week, almost 50 miles, and trained for 5 to 6 hours a day, 6 days a week.
  • This intense routine, while integral to his success, was also physically and mentally taxing.

Factors Influencing Phelps’ Retirement

Apart from the intense physical demands, there was also the mental aspect of Phelps’ career that influenced his decision. Phelps was known for his discipline and laser-like focus on his goals. But, maintaining such a high level of mental fortitude over a long period can be challenging.

  • Bob Bowman, Phelps’ coach, has described Phelps as “a solitary man” with a “rigid focus”, attributes that set him apart but could also contribute to mental exhaustion.
  • Moreover, Phelps’ nutrition regimen was just as demanding as his training schedule. His diet consisted of large quantities of nutrient-dense foods to fuel his high-volume training and build strength.
  • Maintaining such a diet over an extended period is not only challenging but also requires a great deal of discipline and commitment.

In hindsight, Phelps’ initial decision to retire can be seen as an amalgamation of various factors – a momentary dip in performance, the grueling demands of training and diet, and a desire for a change of pace from the rigors of professional swimming. But, as we’ll see in the next section, the journey of Michael Phelps was far from over.


2. The Journey Back to Swimming

Just when the world thought it had seen the last competitive splash from Michael Phelps, the swimmer surprised everyone with his decision to return to the pool. Behind this unexpected comeback was a series of personal and professional events that reignited Phelps’ passion for competitive swimming.

Personal and Professional Shifts

 Michael Phelps
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After retiring post the 2012 London Olympics, Phelps delved into other sports and made numerous appearances at ProAm tournaments. However, it was during this time away from the pool that Phelps experienced significant shifts in his personal and professional life. He was now able to approach swimming on his terms, free from external pressures and expectations.

Jon Urbanchek, a former Michigan coach who had known Phelps since he was 11, said, “I’ve never seen Michael this happy. This didn’t come from his mom. It wasn’t [coach] Bob [Bowman]. This was his decision.” Such words indicate a shift in Phelps’ mindset, hinting at a newfound sense of autonomy and self-determination.

A Change in Mindset and Motivation

This period of Phelps’ life was crucial for reshaping his motivation towards swimming. Dara Torres, a 12-time Olympic medalist, asserted her belief that Phelps missed competing. She revealed, “I have never seen anyone as competitive as me except for Michael Phelps… You have someone like Michael, and now he’s in real life. He’s playing golf, he’s doing things here and there.”

Evidently, his competitive spirit yearned for more than what retirement offered.

Phelps’ mindset underwent a transformation during his retirement. His love for swimming, coupled with his desire to compete, began to outweigh his initial reasons for retirement. Ultimately, the pull of the pool proved too strong to resist.

Phelps’ return to competitive swimming boiled down to “a desire to swim and a love for the sport.

In essence, Phelps’ journey back to swimming was marked by a series of personal and professional events that influenced his decision. His time away from the pool led to a changed mindset and reignited motivation, reminding him of his deep-rooted love for swimming and competition.

His story serves as a powerful reminder that sometimes, stepping back can provide the clarity needed to find one’s true passion.


3. The Motivation Behind Phelps’ Return

While Michael Phelps’ decision to retire from competitive swimming in 2012 was seen as a significant moment in his career, it was not the end of his relationship with the sport. As we know, Phelps didn’t stay retired for long. He returned to compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, adding another layer of depth and intrigue to his already illustrious career.

The Desire to Swim Again

At the core of Phelps’ decision to return was his unabating love for swimming. In his own words, Phelps cited his passion for the sport as the main reason he decided to come back, stating, “That’s the only reason I want to do it. For me. I love to swim. I want to swim.”

This sentiment perhaps echoes his early days as a young swimmer, when he overcame initial fears and found inspiration in the performances of Olympians like Tom Malchow and Tom Dolan at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Despite the challenges and pressures that come with competitive swimming, Phelps’ love for the sport remained an enduring constant throughout his life.

Aiming for Unprecedented Goals

Phelps’ hunger for achievement was another driving force behind his return. Even after having won 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold, at that point in time, Phelps felt he had more to accomplish. The decorated swimmer did not merely rest on his laurels. Instead, he harbored a desire to elevate himself even further in the annals of sporting history.

He yearned to solidify his status as the greatest athlete of all time. His return to the pool was, therefore, not just a result of his affection for the sport, but also a testament to his unwavering ambition and determination.

Impact of Personal Events

It’s also worth noting how Phelps’ personal life may have influenced his decision to return to competitive swimming. After reconciling with Nicole Johnson, whom he first met in 2007, Phelps got engaged to her in February 2015 and they later married in secret in June 2016.

The stability and support that came with this relationship were likely instrumental in Phelps’ decision to dive back into the challenging world of professional swimming.

In sum, Phelps’ return to competitive swimming was fueled by a combination of his inherent love for the sport, his unquenched thirst for achievement, and changes in his personal life.

It was a decision that allowed him to continue pursuing his passion while simultaneously striving to set new records and redefine what is possible in the realm of competitive swimming.


4. Phelps’s Post-Retirement Goals

After retiring from competitive swimming, Michael Phelps took a step back from his demanding training schedule, but he did not step back from setting ambitious goals.

In the post-retirement phase of his life, Phelps has not only been spending quality time with his family but also working towards several personal and professional objectives.

A New Chapter: Life Beyond the Pool

Since his last Olympic gold medal, Phelps has channeled his inexhaustible drive for achievement into a multitude of new endeavors. Phelps has expressed a desire to teach the world to swim and grow the sport he dominated for over a decade.

Furthermore, he has set his sights on lowering his golf handicap and embarked on numerous travel adventures around the world, something he had long wished to do.

Contributing to Social Causes

Beyond personal pursuits, Phelps has also engaged in philanthropic work. He is an advocate for water conservation and has been actively involved with Colgate’s Save Water campaign.

He has remained active in sports, making regular appearances at ProAm tournaments, demonstrating that his passion for competition remains strong even outside of swimming2.

Family and Fatherhood

Phelps’ post-retirement goals are not solely confined to his own pursuits. But, now a father, his priorities have shifted towards his family.

In an interview Phelps shared that his focus has transitioned from personal performance to family and work, proving that his goal-oriented mindset extends to all aspects of his life.

Goal-Setting: A Key to Motivation

The importance of goal-setting in Phelps’ life cannot be understated. Even though the nature of his goals has evolved since his retirement, they still play a pivotal role in his daily routine. Setting goals has allowed him to stay focused and motivated, steering clear of distractions.

When heard from the most successful Olympian of all time, the message carries a compelling weight: having concrete goals is a powerful motivator and a guiding light, no matter what stage of life you are in.

Whether it’s breaking Olympic records or contributing to social causes, Phelps’ post-retirement journey demonstrates that the pursuit of goals doesn’t cease when one chapter ends. Instead, it can pave the way for exciting new beginnings, filled with meaningful experiences and impactful contributions.


5. Final Thoughts on Phelps’ Retirement Choice

Reflecting on Phelps’ retirement decision, it is clear that this choice was a significant milestone in his career narrative.

After the 2012 London Olympics, Phelps decided to hang up his swimming goggles and retire from the sport. He emphatically stated, “I’m done. I’m finished. I’m retired. I’m done. No more,” expressing a desire to distance himself from swimming.

This decision came after an intense period of training where he swam nearly 80,000 meters a week, a testament to his dedication and commitment.

But, as we know, Phelps’ retirement was short-lived. In 2014, he made a comeback, diving back into the pool and subsequently participating in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. This change of heart reveals the deep passion Phelps holds for swimming, a passion so strong that it could draw him back even after a firm resolution to retire.

Michael Phelps
By Braden Egli from Unsplash/ Copyright 2023

Phelps’ story provides us with valuable insights into motivation, goal-setting, and passion. Despite initially being frightened of putting his face in the water, Phelps overcame his fears and was inspired by other Olympic athletes to pursue swimming. His journey highlights the power of motivation and the role it plays in overcoming obstacles.

Moreover, Phelps’ love for the sport shines through his career trajectory. It’s evident that his return to swimming wasn’t motivated by fame or money, but rather a pure love for the sport and a desire to achieve more. His comeback, marked by a relaxed and sociable demeanor, was a stark contrast from his previous isolation, indicating a renewed perspective and sense of enjoyment.

In essence, Michael Phelps’ story teaches us that passion can be a powerful motivator, capable of driving us toward unimaginable goals. It reminds us that setbacks, like his initial fear of water, are merely stepping stones to greater achievements.

And, importantly, it shows us that it’s never too late to revisit our passions and rewrite our narratives, just as Phelps did with his surprising return to swimming.


End Note

In this journey through the career of Michael Phelps, we’ve explored his initial years in swimming, where he overcame his fear of putting his face in the water to become one of the most decorated Olympians in history

We discovered that Phelps’ decision to retire wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment choice but a carefully considered move. It was influenced by both personal and professional events, including an eagerness to step away from competitive swimming and explore new opportunities. Yet, his love for swimming and an innate desire to push boundaries brought him back to the Olympics in 2016.

Even after his final retirement, Phelps has remained active and involved in various initiatives, notably his work with Colgate’s Save Water campaign and his newfound role as a father. A testament to his relentless pursuit of goals,

Phelps continues to be driven by setting and achieving objectives in his post-retirement life.

Much like Phelps, we all have our unique goals, motivations, and passions that drive us forward. Phelps’ story serves as a reminder that it’s never too late to redefine your goals and aspirations and that stepping away from something doesn’t always mean the end—it can often be a new beginning.

So, inspired by Phelps’ story, let’s pause for a moment and reflect on our own motivations, ambitions, and the goals we set for ourselves.