Ian Thorpe over at AFP:You know what I think? I think Phelps too will realize that he too can't leave this sport and will be back in 2016 much like Thorpe realized he had to come back post Beijing.
"It's really nice to be swimming again and to enjoy the life of an athlete. I think I forgot what it's like to do this and I didn't appreciate that so few people get to enjoy this," said Thorpe, attending the final stage of the Mare Nostrum circuit at Monaco as an onlooker rather than a competitor.
"Now I'm back doing this, I'm enjoying the kind of training lifestyle, to be fit and healthy again," said Thorpe, who in February announced that he would seek to qualify for the 2012 Games, focusing on the 100m and 200m freestyle.
I have no proof or evidence nor can I look deep into Michael Phelps' soul and tell you what his motivations are but throughout my life having been around a lot of artists of note a key aspect of their personalities is their desire to be acknowledged.
I summarily don't think Phelps will be able to find the acknowledgment he craves outside of swimming nor will he he be able to be the "greatest" at something else. Here is a kid that has been famous since he 16-year-old and will "retire" when he is thirty. So, what does Phelps do for a second act? Even James Cagney came out of retirement to make a movie when he was 82-years old called Ragtime by Milos Forman. Now there was a actor that got the Queen of England to stand up and give a standing "O" just for showing up and she even went backstage to visit. (Queens don't do that!) Much like Michael Phelps was the best swimmer of all time in Beijing 2008, Cageny was the best actor of all time, left at the top, but he had to come back despite abject pain and the near end of his life.
I suspect both would like to remain relevant pop culture figures though Thorpe will have an easier time of it; (more established relationships with people of note, a whole country who loves him not to mention commonwealth recognition), and which is why Phelps will have to swim in 2016. What else can he do? Can he become a "super ninja" at poker? Are there any household names who play poker? Can he become a pro golfer? Phelps is tall and and the length of his clubs and arms make him prone to minute control problems and timing errors.
The best just can't leave when they are at the top; they have to be beaten first. Just ask Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, Mohamed Ali, Bjorn Borg, Pele, Roger Clemons, George Foreman, et al. ...Oh yeah, and some chic named Dara Torres.