OMAHA, Neb. — Michael Phelps has returned to the U.S. Olympic trials, not to swim but to watch, cheer on old friends and relive past glories.
But when he first set foot near the pool in the Omaha arena where he won so many races and launched himself onto the 2008, 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic teams, he actually had to stop and gather his thoughts.
“I was walking on the pool deck and I felt chills going up my body,” Phelps said during a Zoom interview with reporters covering the trials Monday evening. “I had to stop and take a lot of deep breaths. It was overwhelming.”
Then, watching the first night of competition Sunday, well, it happened again.
“I will say it got a lot of things firing inside me last night,” he said. “It really excited me. It was awesome to see, it was fun to see. It was probably more emotional than I thought. I haven’t been to many of these larger stakes meets live for a long time.”
There was even a put-me-in-coach moment for the most decorated Olympian of all time.
“This is all I know and all I’ve really understood,” he said. “I almost feel like, for me, body-wise, I feel like I’m almost ready. I’m ready to go. Maybe put me in there, let me do a time trial or something. It’s something weird. It’s weird feeling that again.”
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Asked to look back on his storied career, in which he won 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold, the 35-year-old Phelps said he still can’t quite believe it all happened.
“I can think all the way back to being a little kid and wanting the opportunity to just swim on one Olympic team and maybe win one medal,” he said. “Twenty-eight Olympic medals? That’s weird. That’s still really weird to look at. It’s just strange. It hasn’t fully sunk in yet. It’s so awesome for me to take a trip back down that memory lane.”