Michael Phelps has nothing left to prove in a swimming pool. His place in Olympic history is assured, and anything he might accomplish during the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro — if he should decide to try and add to his record medal count — would just be, well, treading water.
That said, if you're looking for someone to beg him to stay on the golf course, you came to the wrong place.
Phelps has earned the right to never dip his toe into chlorinated water again if that's what he wants, but there is no reason for a 28-year-old guy to stop doing what he has done better than anyone as long as he still enjoys training and competing. If he can go to Brazil and shake down Father Time for a little more gold or silver at the ripe old age of 31, more power to him. If not, there will be no harm done to his legacy.
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Fortunately, no one told Leonardo Da Vinci that there was nowhere to go but down after he painted The Last Supper, or else the world might have been robbed of the mystery of Mona Lisa's smile. Maybe that's a silly comparison — considering Da Vinci probably couldn't swim a lick and Phelps will never match the masterpiece that was the 2008 Beijing Games — but it's still on point. If Phelps thinks he has more to offer his sport, who is really qualified to say otherwise?
He hasn't actually said that yet. He simply has resumed training and placed himself back into the drug-testing pool for international competition, which keeps the door open for him to compete on the world stage in 2014.
Though he announced his retirement after the 2012 London Games and clearly has enjoyed the adventurous life of a rich, retired sports hero, it should come as no surprise that Phelps is considering a return to competitive swimming. He obviously lives to compete and tried to replace the adrenaline rush of a big race by taking a serious swing at golf. He also loves the spotlight, which explains why he put that quest on national display on the cable golf show "The Haney Project" and in the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in July.
The PGA Tour apparently is not in his immediate future. He finished 84th in the 85-celeb event, ahead of only comedian Larry the Cable Guy, but he had been playing for only a little more than a year.
If Phelps seemed sure that he was through with swimming when he got back from London last year, he has passed up plenty of opportunities to totally discount a return to competition. By some accounts, he seemed wistful when he made a promotional visit to the 2013 World Swimming Championships in Barcelona. This week, he told the Associated Press that he has "no idea what's going to happen" and "nothing is set in stone."
It's not very hard to read between those lines. Phelps has started working himself back into swimming shape, and he needs time to see if he still has the drive to do what it takes to reclaim his place among the world's premier swimmers. Anyone who doubts that he still has the ability to do that — if he so desires — has not been paying attention.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.