There is no doubt that Michael Phelps is the greatest swimmer ever. That is talent is so rich and runs so deep that he has demonstrated all throughout 2010 that he can show up to a meet barely prepared and still win the majority of races he competes.
It will probably take a generation of swimmers; (30-years or so), before we see a swimmer that can match his accomplishments and this declaration may be an understatement.
For over a year now Michael Phelps has acknowledged that he has been poorly prepared when showing up to "off-meets." These are not my words, but the words of both Michael Phelps and Bob Bowman.
Here is a brief chronicle of the past 8-months:
It was a state championship in a short course yard pool for age-groupers; the Maryland State Swim Championships at the U.S. Naval Academy. Michael Phelps was graciously attending to both inspire the kids and to get some benchmarks to measure his conditioning. One of those benchmarks was the 400 IM.
From Associated Press:
"I'm not happy, not at all," said Phelps, [...] He last swam competitively seven weeks ago.
"I wasn't as focused as I should have been. I let things control me that I should have been able to control. This is my job, my profession. I should handle things differently..."
"I can say today, at this moment, after this event, 3:39 is nowhere close to what I can or should do." [The state record was 3:35.98.]
Later in the meet he went on to break his own short course record in the 200-free.
In middle March, Phelps, swam at the The UltraSwim meet in Charlotte. He won the 200m IM, the 100m-butterfly, and the 200m-free. He scratched in the 50m-free after placing ninth in the prelims and placed second to Nicholas Thoman in the 100m-back.
His response to his performance as printed at the Telegraph in the UK:
"... "This weekend gives me motivation, more than anything. The weekend was not great, not terrible.
"I can't really be disappointed. There's some conditioning I need to fix, but hopefully by the end of the year I'll be where I want to be."..."
In May at the Open EDF, more mixed results:
According to, Bob Bowman, Phelps still continued to loaf and failed to show up for workouts. Bowman and Phelps even traded expletives regarding his workout attendance. When asked by ESPN what has been going on with his "day job", it was suggested that the Open EDF, the 2010 USA Swimming Nationals, and the Pan-Pacific Championships were summarily events held during an off year. He credited his lack of workout participation for giving him time to relax, to take up golf, and discover or define who he is as an adult.
His time in the 200-meter medley was a 1 minute, 58.95 seconds on Sunday, but he struggled throughout his freestyle races telling AP that he has to train harder, he needs to train harder.
“I’m not worried,” Phelps said. “Am I upset? Yes. Very. When I’m upset, I think it’s the best time for me to try and use that as a motivation.”
“Hopefully, it’s a wake up call. If it’s not, then I have to change a lot,” he said. “I blame myself. You’ve got to be responsible for your own action.”
Consequently, the Bowman/Phelps drama is seemingly like the separation one observes between a "father and his son" once the kid reaches adulthood. However, their relationship, as noted by ESPN, is a business relationship rather than a father/son relationship.
"I used every trick I had," Bowman said. "At first, I tried to be really patient, which is not a strong suit. I acted like it didn't bother me even though it killed me. Then I said, 'Screw that,' and got all over him and he missed like two straight weeks."
Bowman said he confronted Phelps about his commitment a few times, describing their conversations like this: "He wouldn't show up and I'd say, 'Where the f--- are you?' And he'd be equally urbane and intellectual, and then would miss two more weeks."
Michael Phelps is not just a professional swimmer, he is even more than a business, he is a resource that generates millions-of-dollars for the likes of Speedo, USA Swimming, his charities, his agents, his lawyers, and the TV networks that cover him.
Even now Speedo is embracing Ryan Lochte more than they are Michael Phelps because Ryan Lochte cares about his brand, his workout schedule and performances. Consequently, he blatantly executes well. Phelps on the other hand berates his very own work ethic which in effect diminishes the ability of those that either lost to him or defeated him.
Example: If Michael Phelps suddenly gave an impromptu press conference at some swim meet stating emphatically with lots of emotion that Ryan Lochte will never beat him in the 400 IM. That he will never allow anyone to beat him in any event he swam, economic engines at NBC Sports would be planning to have a television crew at any meet he swam and the sports pages all across the country would AP alert set up cover his races.
Even USA Swimming would be throwing more swim meets and licensing the television rights so as to use the profits to both grow the sport and their personal pocketbooks. Offers for both athletes to come and swim here or there would come early and often but Phelps is not saying those sort of things.
Instead, his excuses are about how unprepared he is or; if you read between the lines, how he would really rather be doing something else.
Finally, since Michael Phelps is a brand, his brand is changing from the greatest swimmer of all time to a swimmer who can't wait till retirement. That to me is a PR crisis and his sponsors can't be happy.