Michael Phelps generated some buzz at the World Swimming Championships in Barcelona this week when he was non-committal to the latest media inquiries about his future.
Since he wouldn’t specifically rule out one more attempt to add to his medal collection at the next Olympics, it’s probably fair to wonder if he is no longer so certain about staying retired.
"I don't know what's going to happen in the future," Phelps told the Associated Press on Monday. "I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow."
This is probably just a case of never saying never in an environment that had to breed some instant nostalgia. He was back among many of his former Olympic teammates and rivals on a promotional trip for Speedo and was probably getting a lot of friendly encouragement to consider getting back in the pool.
No doubt, Phelps could get back into world-class shape if he was so inclined, and he probably could win a few more medals, but there’s really nothing he could do to enhance his legacy as the greatest swimmer and most decorated athlete in Olympic history.
If he does decide to resume his swimming career, it would certainly be a sign of his undying love for both the sport and a level of competition that he’ll probably never reach in any other of his many new endeavors.
He has poked his nose under the tent at the World Series of Poker and spent the past year or so under the tutelage of world-class golf coach Hank Haney. He appeared to be having the time of his life -- and it’s hard for those of us who have never reached such an athletic height to imagine him wanting to resume the grueling training regimen necessary to pursue another Olympiad -- but the personal drive that took him to the pinnacle of his sport is undoubtedly still percolating inside him.
It’s the same thing that makes boxing champions come back time after time -- a combination of hyper-competitiveness and the need to be on stage. If the hunger is still there, it is hard to resist.
That said, when you’ve scaled the highest high and stood on the mountaintop bedecked in gold, there is really only one direction left to go.