BALTIMORE — After lifting weights, running sprints around an indoor track, pounding a training partner with bright red boxing gloves and, finally, swimming for two hours to complete his most taxing workout in more than two months, Michael Phelps yanked himself out of the pool at Loyola College late last week. He pronounced himself exhausted, hurting and, by his standards, out of shape.
But he wasn’t in too much pain to throw down a little challenge. A month away from a heavily anticipated showdown with Germany’s Paul Biedermann, who upset Phelps at this summer’s world championships, Phelps vowed to wear a waist-to-knee suit (“jammer”) at a pair of mid-November FINA/Arena World Cup meets even though the ban on long, technical suits does not go into effect until January.
He invited his competitors at the events in Stockholm and Berlin — he wasn’t naming any names — to do the same.
“I’m going to have my jammer on,” Phelps said. “If anyone wants to put a jammer on, feel free. I’m getting ready for where the sport is going. If I’m going to be wearing this for the next three years, I’m going to start now.”
Added Phelps with a grin, “It’s a little statement.”
And what if Biedermann, who not only beat Phelps in the 200-meter freestyle in July but also took his world record in the event, and others wear their full-body technical suits as expected?
“He crushed me this summer,” Phelps said. “If he destroys me, he’s going to destroy me … I’m focused on what I have to do.”
At the moment, he has to get himself into racing shape for the Nov. 10-11 meet in Stockholm and the Nov. 14-15 meet in Berlin, two legs of a five-meet international series that kicks off this weekend in Durban, South Africa. Phelps took five weeks off after the world championships, largely to nurse a hairline fracture in his right foot caused when an air bag deployed in a fender-bender in downtown Baltimore Aug. 13. But the break also helped him get revitalized.
Both his foot, which he could not flex or point when he raced Shaquille O’Neal in a trio of made-for-television races taped just 10 days after the accident, and his psyche, spent after a physically and emotionally taxing stretch at the world championships, have returned to health after the long break.
“When I take time off and finally come back, it’s when I’m ready to come back,” Phelps said. “I’ve done everything I can do; it gets boring after a while.”
Striving to win Olympic and world championship gold medals, on the other hand, he said, does not get boring, even though he’s got dozens of those and the London Olympics are three years away. It helps that his coach, Bob Bowman, doesn’t mind giving him the afternoon off to play golf now and then, and new North Baltimore Aquatic Club trainer Keenan Robinson brings a novel approach to dryland training to keep things interesting.
Mostly, though, Phelps figures he has the right mental approach to avoid burnout.
“Sometimes, yeah, it’s hard,” he said. “Also, sometimes, it’s easy. If you look at it, I have less than three years left in my career. After that, I’m done. If there are times I don’t want to do something, times I don’t want to come to practice, I think, ‘I’ve already been doing this for 17 years. Three years is nothing compared to what I’ve done already.’
“It’s going to go by fast. I feel like it was yesterday that I was 15 and in Sydney [for the 2000 Summer Games]. I literally remember it exactly.”
Phelps found himself drifting back to his second Olympics in Athens in 2004 at the oddest time; he was standing in his luxury suite before a recent Baltimore Ravens home game, wearing his Ed Reed jersey and listening to the National Anthem with his mother at his side. The combination of the familiar music and Debbie Phelps’s presence brought on what he describes as a “DP [Debbie Phelps] Moment.”
DP Moments, he said, always involve tears and large amounts of emotion.
“You rank DP Moments on a scale of 1 to 10,” Phelps said. “A 10 is a deep, deep cry. I’d give this DP Moment a good six.”
Said Phelps: “After they played the National Anthem, I said, ‘Mom, I still remember the first medal I ever won in Athens’… She started tearing up, and I started tearing up. There are tons of memories that go through your head, and she’s been there for every single one.”
He will carve out his specific goals for London as those Games approach, but he’s already pondering expanding his program after a season in which he concentrated on sprint events. He will keep the 100-meter freestyle (“You take the suits away,” Phelps said, “and it’s a different race,”) but expects to bring back the 200 individual medley. He looks more warily at the 400 IM, saying he will tackle that again only if he gets himself back into peak shape.
He’s not there yet. After his recent workout, he all but hobbled over to Robinson for a lactate test, a quick blood analysis that gives athletes insight into how much energy they’ve expended and how fatigued they are. Phelps peered at the number that registered on a monitor and explained, “it pretty much means I’m out of shape.”
“It’s the worst time of year,” Phelps said. “I’m hurting, really hurting.”
A month, Phelps figured, would give him enough time to put on a respectable showing in Europe. The world cups in Stockholm and Berlin will be conducted in 25-meter pools, an environment in which Phelps has rarely competed but which, he said, takes less of a physical toll than long-course events.
“It’s not a big meet for me, and it’s not a small meet,” he said. “These are like tests; the meets are like little tests to show me where I am, and what I need to change.
“I’m not expecting to go out and do best times, but I’m going to race, and racing keeps me excited. If I go over and get beat, that will make me even more hungry.”
Tags: Michael Phelps