For the second time in his decorated career, Michael Phelps will leave Baltimore with coach Bob Bowman to train for the Olympics.
Arizona State named Bowman its swimming head coach at a Friday news conference. And just as Phelps did when Bowman became coach at Michigan in 2005, the swimmer will move along with the man who has guided his development since adolescence.
Bowman confirmed Phelps’ relocation plans at the news conference in Tempe. A spokesman for the swimmer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I think to some people, this might be somewhat of a surprise, and in many ways, I might be the most surprised,” Bowman said after he was introduced. “But when I looked seriously at the potential of this program and this university, it’s clear that this can be such a great story not just here or for ASU but for collegiate swimming. … It could be a model for others to follow.”
Phelps confirmed last week that he’s aiming for a fifth Olympics appearance in 2016. He can only hope the results are as good as they were the last time he and Bowman decamped from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club for a university swim program. Phelps’ preparations at Michigan led up to his signature performance at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, where he won a record eight gold medals.
Arizona has become a familiar stage for Phelps. He ended his 20-month retirement from the sport last year in Mesa and returned from a six-month suspension for drunken driving last week at the Mesa Arena Pro Swim Series event.
Phelps won two races last week, the 100-meter butterfly and 100-meter freestyle, and said he’s training harder than he has since the 2008 Games. After a difficult period of self-examination prompted by his September arrest for driving under the influence, he also said he never has been happier.
Bowman attested to Phelps’ turnaround as well, saying he was initially skeptical of the swimmer’s plans to get his life and career on track, but that Phelps had won him over with his new outlook.
Overshadowed by Phelps’ return to the pool was a report in The Arizona Republic last week that Bowman had met with Arizona State officials about the university’s vacant coaching job.
The Pacific-12 Conference school is an unexpected destination, with men’s and women’s swimming programs that have struggled to compete at NCAA championship meets in recent years. Arizona State actually eliminated its men’s program in 2008 before alumni support helped revive it.
University officials say Bowman will change the program’s outlook rapidly.
“Bob is an icon in this sport and one of the most respected coaches in the industry,” Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said in a statement. “Under Bob’s guidance we will compete for individual, conference and national titles, produce All-Americans and Olympians and create the most expansive developmental swim program in all of collegiate sports. His experience at every level of competition will allow him to grow our swimming program into an elite team and an invaluable community asset.”
Bowman coached Michigan from 2005 to 2008 and was named Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year twice. Since he and Phelps returned to Baltimore after the 2008 Olympics, he has served as CEO of the NBAC. He and Phelps hold a long-term lease on the club’s training facility in Mount Washington.
Other swimmers who work with Bowman at the NBAC include Olympic gold medalist Allison Schmitt and Bel Air native Chase Kalisz, a silver medalist at the 2013 FINA World Championships.
For his part, Phelps has said he felt out of sorts in his early days at training at Michigan. But he has also said he was never in better competitive shape than before he went to Beijing.
He wasn’t always so happy in the years after his return to Baltimore, as he struggled to find motivation to train and sparred with Bowman over his work habits. His arrest outside the Fort McHenry Tunnel last fall was a self-described low point. But Phelps has said he learned much about himself during a 45-day treatment stint in Arizona and in the months that followed.
He’s serving 18 months of supervised probation after pleading guilty to DUI in Baltimore District Court in December. But at age 29, he’s also recently engaged to former Miss California Nicole Johnson and, he says, rededicated to swimming.