Longtime Olympic viewers readily recognize Michael Phelps’ mother, Debbie, who has been a mainstay in the stands throughout his career. An uneven presence, however, has been his father, Fred. Phelps’ strained relationship with his father has been well documented.
But during Phelps’ 45-day stay at the Meadows rehabilitation center in Arizona after his drunken driving arrest in 2014, he seemed determined to reckon with the most uncomfortable aspects of his past. That included inviting his father to Arizona. They'd barely spoken for long stretches of Phelps' adulthood. Fred and Debbie divorced when Phelps was 9 years old.
“Being able to rebuild a friendship with my father, that's something I've always wanted," Phelps would say later. "We're starting from scratch."
He also mended his relationship with Nicole Johnson, the former beauty queen he'd always described to friends as the true love of his life. Since his rehabilitation ended, he has rarely appeared in public without her nearby.
He proposed to Johnson in early 2015 and she gave birth to their son, Boomer, in May. They plan to marry after the Olympics.
His longtime coach Bob Bowman has been fascinated to watch Phelps thrive in settings where Boomer is the center of attention. He no longer worries that Phelps will lack an organizing purpose once he's done swimming.
"That's the piece he has now," he said. "Regardless of how he swims, he will be at peace. And that's a great comfort to me."
Joining Debbie in the stands in Rio have been Johnson and Boomer.