Watch out!Michael Phelps, in London, on Tuesday. (Getty Images)
I believe the debate around the swimsuit has been useful. I think that the swimsuit had a tremendous impact on swimming, and we didn’t quite realise the impact that it actually did have until they eliminated that one-piece suit and took a gigantic step backwards. But the same people are winning.
Michael Phelps would be the one to watch even if they were swimming in a fur coat, it doesn’t really matter. At the Beijing Olympics, he achieved the ultimate, winning eight gold medals. I felt happy that he overtook me in Beijing.
Phelps then had the responsibility to his sponsors and himself, to continue swimming for another four years. To mentally stay in that frame of mind is incredibly hard.
You’ve got to focus on what to do next. If it were me — and I’m the closest person to him — and if I had to swim after winning seven gold medals, I would swim only in events that I’d be assured of winning. And I think that’s what we’re seeing happening.
This time around, Ryan Lochte is Phelps’ main rival. I feel the clash between Phelps and Lochte is made for the television. I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d be betting on Phelps. But they aren’t competing against each other in that many races.
Beyond Phelps and Lochte, I expect there will be upsets and there will be the unexpected. I expect a guy to be out of a gold medal or a silver or a bronze maybe because of a drug test. We just don’t know… It’s hard for me to predict what’s going to happen. If I was capable of really doing that, then I’d certainly have a lot more important job in Washington DC.
I think where the real upsets and the real drama is going to be is in women’s swimming. The problem with men’s swimming — it’s not a problem, it’s just a phenomenon — is that you’ve got two guys who swim 80 per cent of the events. They are not swimming in the sprint events, like the 100m and the 50m.
In the first 10-12 events it’s going to be a Lochte or a Phelps day, with a sprinkling of other great performances, to see who’s going to be first to finish second!
The problem with swimming is you don’t play the game of swimming. It takes anywhere from 20 seconds to two minutes. It gets boring to watch somebody swim for five or six minutes or even 10 minutes because nothing changes very fast.
It’s like watching the paint dry. Anything that happens really quick is boring, because there’s not enough time to establish an interest in that personality.
Why has Phelps become such a personality? It is because we got to watch him swim for eight straight days.
The only man I would compare Phelps to is Usain Bolt.
Bolt is dynamic and very controversial and talks a lot, like a Muhammad Ali, and he also competes in very short events. He also comes from a country that basically doesn’t have very many stars. And so when he becomes the biggest star, then the country helps promote him as well, and then he becomes a big deal, people love him and he becomes the saint and hero.
We have too many saints and we have too many heroes in America. So a Phelps gets absorbed in the Kobe Bryants and the baseball stars, and the golfers.
People try to compare Phelps with me. But I don’t think it could ever be a reality, because I’m 62 and Phelps is 27. If I knew everything I needed to know to beat my competitor and one of my competitors was Phelps, and he too would know everything to beat me, we would have to tie. Nobody would win.
I know for a fact that there will be a lot of focus on doping. We know that those performance-enhancing drugs that are on that list are old-school and haven’t normally been taken by elite athletes in a number of years.
That’s the safe bet, that if it’s not on that list, you can take anything you want. That sort of migrated into the thinking and the mindset of athletes that, that’s what they need to do.
And the reason that they need to do that is because they want to keep those major contracts that they have with those corporations. Back in my day there was no incentive, you couldn’t take a penny to be a professional athlete or you wouldn’t be able to perform in the Olympic Games.
A lot will be made about the fact that the Games are in London and so on and so forth. People will keep comparing Beijing in 2008 with London.
Frankly the athletes really don’t care where the Games are.
But viewing from a distance it is good to see Olympics going to Beijing in 2008 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
I think it’s a great idea to move the Games from city to city. Cities become names in sports because of the Olympics. It becomes synonymous with the city name, it’s pretty incredible actually.
My life post my active swimming career still revolves a little bit around swimming.
I am writing this column many years after my retirement because it enlightens the readers and the listeners to understand maybe a little bit more of an insight, from a personal point of view, from somebody that’s been there such as myself. For that reason alone, I enjoy doing it.