Michael Phelps will return to competition this weekend for the first time since he re-established himself as the most dominant male swimmer in the world at the Aug. 6-10 Phillips 66 National Championships.
Phelps will also appear on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated, which features a wide-ranging interview with the record-setting Olympian.
In it, he offered his fullest description to date of how distraught he was as he holed up in his town house the week after his drunk driving arrest in September 2014. “I was in a really dark place,” he said. “Not wanting to be alive anymore.”
Those close to him, including longtime agent Peter Carlisle, coach Bob Bowman and former Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis urged Phelps to enter a treatment facility, which he did the following week.
Phelps said he’d never been so scared in his life.
The swimmer described how his stint in the Arizona facility led him to build a deeper relationship with his father, Fred, who had long been an ephemeral figure in his life. “I felt abandoned,” Phelps told the magazine. “I have an amazing mother and two amazing sisters. But I would like to have a father in my life, and I’ve been carrying that around for 20 years.”
Phelps emerged from his 45 days at The Meadows a happier person and a more devoted athlete. He proposed to girlfriend Nicole Johnson and trained with an ardor he had not approached since the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he won a record eight gold medals. His efforts did not immediately pay off in competition. But he delivered a crushing performance at Nationals, posting the best times of 2015 in the 100-meter butterfly, the 200-meter butterfly and the 200-meter individual medley. Bowman said Phelps hadn’t swam so well since Beijing.
He has maintained his diligence in the three months since, refusing to blow off practices as he frequently did during his tempestuous preparations for the 2012 Olympics, where he won another four gold medals, bringing his total to a record 18. Phelps is now headquartered in Arizona, where Bowman is in his first season as the head coach at Arizona State.
The mere fact he’s swimming at this weekend’s Arena Pro Swim Series meet in Minneapolis, Minn., which begins Thursday, is a testament to his greater workload as he prepares for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Phelps is entered in six events in Minneapolis — the 100- and 200-meter butterfly, the 100- and 200-meter freestyle, the 200 IM and the 100-meter backstroke.