Michael Phelps rewrote the Olympic record book at this Olympics. He may have re-written the training manual, too.
A day after Phelps supposedly capped off his swimming career with a gold medal in the 4x100 medley relay for his 23rd gold medal and his 28th overall, he reiterated his plan to walk away from the sport at 31-years-old, just as he did four years ago in London.
Two meandering years followed that first retirement, during which Phelps tried to find something else to do, then ended up getting arrested for drunk driving for a second time. That got him suspended from USA Swimming and cost him his spot on the national team for the 2015 World Championships.
In terms of training, those forced sabbaticals now look like a blessing in disguise. They gave Phelps a built-in break from the grind of the Olympic training cycle that can wear down any aging athlete.
Dave Marsh, a coach of the U.S. swim team here in Rio, said he plans to tell every swimmer not headed back to college to find something else to do for a while, even the ones who have designs on heading to Tokyo in four years.
“Six months at the absolute minimum, but a year is fine, too,” said Dave Marsh. “They have to get away from this mentally and physically.”
Phelps is not the first athlete have been refueled by time away from the sport from a break, intentional or otherwise, but as the most successful Olympian ever, his methods have always been imitated and will likely continue to be.