No Secrets in Swimming: Sources Report Story of Michael Phelps Comeback Leak

The worst-kept secret in swimming is that there are no secrets in swimming. Sure, the explosion of information available on the internet and through social media might be changing; the willingness of people to give said information to sources like SwimSwam, who will report it to the masses, might be new. But there are no secrets in the giant game of telephone that is the competitive swimming community. The sport’s top athletes are too accessible, too close to everyone else.

Even Michael Phelps.

After Peter Busch of NBC2 in Fort Meyers broke the news that Phelps was making a comeback, Phelps Tweeted a retort that on its surface could be considered a denial, but when inspected more closely, did no such thing. It was a tweet that expressed frustration, yes, but not denial.

We’ve spoken to sources very close to Phelps, and here’s their explanation for what happened: Phelps has been considering this come back for about three months now. It truly had been planned. However Phelps, as understandably as anybody would in a similar situation, wanted to make the announcement on his own terms, and these were not his terms. This story was leaked by someone that Phelps trusted, though nobody we talked to would (could) speculate on who that leak was.

The frustration is understandable. Once the story leaks, when you’re one of the most influential athletes on the planet, it’s hard to take it back. If things don’t work out, then all of a sudden there’s folks who are let down that it didn’t work out.

What is a report of a “plan” to make a comeback? It’s really not verifiable or unverifiable. Plans often mean very little, especially in sports. Until Phelps re-enters the drug testing pool, there is nothing concrete, and nothing has really happened. A plan can be musings with friends over a beer as much as it can be carved with hammer and chisel into rock until certain thresholds are met. A few laps in a local pool for the greatest swimmer ever is not a plan to come back. We all know what “Olympian Michael Phelps” training looks like as compared to “trying to stay in shape Michael Phelps” looks like in a pool.

This is a secret that everyone at the top level of swimming knows by now, and we discussed with both those very close to Phelps and those who were more steps removed. Nobody would discuss it on the record, but this is how swimming is: nothing is a secret, but the person who caused the leak is almost always a secret.

Hopefully, this publicity hasn’t scared him away from the sport that he grew in popularity unlike anybody in the modern era; hasn’t reminded him of the pressure that it means to be Michael Phelps. Many fans had made their peace with the end of the career of Phelps and moving into the Nathan Adrian/Ryan Lochte era of men’s American swimming. We all have to face it though: Phelps is good for business in swimming. He is the greatest, comeback or not, that won’t change until someone wins medal number 23, or finds some other way to overwhelm the body of Phelps’ work.

Now, we’ll all sit back and watch the show, and respect Phelps’ right to make his own announcement. From here on out, as far as SwimSwam is concerned, it’s his show. We’ll report it when he or his representative reports it on the record, or he rejoins the testing pool, or until he enters a meet, or does something else similarly concrete, and nothing until then.


  1. Lane Four says:

    Well said, SwimSwam.

  2. anonymous says:

    some of the most poignant and insightful words i have read today. thank you swimswam. true pros.

    “Hopefully, this publicity hasn’t scared him away from the sport that he grew in popularity unlike anybody in the modern era; hasn’t reminded him of the pressure that it means to be Michael Phelps. Many fans had made their peace with the end of the career of Phelps and moving into the Nathan Adrian/Ryan Lochte era of men’s American swimming. We all have to face it though: Phelps is good for business in swimming. He is the greatest, comeback or not, that won’t change until someone wins medal number 23, or finds some other way to overwhelm the body of Phelps’ work.
    Now, we’ll all sit back and watch the show, and respect Phelps’ right to make his own announcement. From here on out, as far as SwimSwam is concerned, it’s his show. We’ll report it when he or his representative reports it on the record, or he rejoins the testing pool, or until he enters a meet, or does something else similarly concrete, and nothing until then.”

    Thank you Mel, Braden, Garrett and the rest of the swimswam staff. And thank you Michael for introducing me to the swimming world and inspiring a generation. Whatever you wish to do, we all wish you the best.

  3. KeithM says:

    So has he definitely decided to return or has he just been considering it? One reason he might delay an announcement is that he wasn’t fully committed or certain he would return, he may have just been leaning that way. Sometimes it takes awhile to make these decisions and the leaking of this story may potentially have an impact on that decision.

  4. Jiggs says:

    Are we sure we’re not talking about the 28-year old Russian, Mikhail Bhelps?

  5. bobo gigi says:

    MP, please, don’t come back!

    • aswimfan says:

      Why Bobo?

      I thought you’d be very happy.

      • bobo gigi says:

        Because he has had the most fantastic possible career. Because he has gone on the highest possible note in London with a gold medal in the medley relay. Because he has nothing left to prove in swimming. And because he’s my swimming idol and I want to keep in my mind a Michael Phelps at the top of his game.

        • Cabry says:

          So it’s really about you, LOL. Eh, they brought up the same thing with Ian. I think Susie O’Neill said the same thing you did. Thorpe’s response was basically: ‘sometimes people want to take ownership of an athlete and their performances. I’m a swimmer. I love to swim. This is what I want to do.’ Afterwards, he said he was proud that he wasn’t too afraid of failure to try. If Michael comes back and fails to win anything ever again(which I doubt), it in no way depreciates what he has already done. It even has the potential to show how hard it actually is to win when he made it look so easy for so long. He deserves to not have any unanswered questions for himself whatever he decides.

          I, for one, hold this teeny tiny glimmer of hope that there could be a Phelps v. Thorpe race again. OMG that would be awesome! I will now begin holding my breath.

        • easyspeed says:

          Annoying the way some say, “Phelps has nothing left to accomplish in the sport.” True that he has accomplished an amazing amount- the best of all time for sure. But there is always a new goal to be set. MP doesn’t have a 200/100 back or 100 free world title, for example. An event like the 400 free will be tough for him to get a WR in- with his getting up in age and the time off, but I wouldn’t put anything past him. Would be nice to see him in some different events. But fourpeats are nice too.. anyway, great for the sport to have him involved again!

          • I don´t think Phelps will get a 100 free world.. not before.. not now.. 100 back would be tought.. 200 back a little more feasible.. 400 free with Sun ? Not a way..

          • aswimfan says:

            In 2005, when Phelps tried to swim 400 free, he finished 18th in worlds.

            At his age now, no way.

            He might a chance to medal in 100 free, but only IF he trains 100% in 50 and 100 free,

          • easyspeed says:

            The 400 free flop in 2005 was due to lack of experience, not ability. Phelps could have been a world champion in that event if he ever focused on it.

            The only events Phelps couldn’t win are those at the 50m length and the breaststroke events.

            I agree with you guys doing the longer stuff now would be a tough task, however.

            Everyone should remember Phelps didn’t have very good preparation for London. If he starts training now for Brazil he might have better results.

          • aswimfan says:

            So you believe that if Phelps train for 400 now, he will beat Sun Yang in Rio?

            sorry, but I find that proposition a bit ridiculous.

  6. Jg says:

    It is notoriously difficult for top sportspeople to find out they do not look good in golf pants.

    And that is all there is to look forward to in life. Golf. Golf & more golf in atrocious outfits.

  7. Baxter says:

    Swimswam doin what they do better than anybody else in the community – reporting, no speculating!

    Well thought out and written words! I’ll enjoy the show, it’s prime time!!!

  8. aswimfan says:

    Not surprising at all. Last year I kept writing in my comments that Phelps would make a comeback to be ready for 2016.

    Not a few people scoffed me.

    What’s surprising is how quickit only took like what 6 months? before Phelps decided to jump back into the pool.

    Phelps is one of the most competitive athletes on earth, if not the most competitive.

    No way he’s satisified with being a casual golfer, especially when there is a lure of recognition to become the only swimmer ever to four-peat in the olympics.

    I had predicted Phelps announced his come back in 2014, to be eligible to swim in all FINA and USASWIMMING sanctioned competition (including 2015 Worlds), but things apparently is moving much faster than that… LOL.

    My prediction is Phelps will concentrate on 100 fly and 200 IM (both will afford him the chance to four-peat) as well as 100 free (despite having broken 200 free WR and oly gold in the 200 free, I think he feels his legacy in freestyle is nothing spectacular, especially compared to his exploits in the IM and fly, and we know free events, especially sprints have more prestige).

    • Four peating will be pretty impossible.. on 200 IM I´m not talking about Lotche.. but Hagino.. on 100 fly Chad le Clos and others newcomers.. 100 free.. Can´t see he going 47 low or even sub 47 at this age now..

      • Justin Thompson says:

        I think he could win the 100 fly and even the 200 IM and going a 47 at age 27 or even 31 for that matter isn’t out of the realms of possibility. Going a low 47 might be tough for him at any age. Hagino is doing great in the IM’s but his 200 IM best is almost 1.5 seconds off Phelps and Lochte and who’s to say that either of them couldn’t go faster with a shorter program. The mens 100 fly hasn’t moved much in the past 8 years minus the suits. Crocker and Phelps were going 50′s back in the 04-08 time frame, but I think the biggest difference now is that there’s more swimmers going a 51.

        Bottom line, I think he might take up training again to stay in shape. Reports of him being in tip top shape are ridiculous, but I do believe he could look good and tone up with minimal training.

        • aswimfan says:

          Doubtful he’ll get any faster in 200 IM.

          If I were him, I’d only train and focus on 50/100 free and 100 fly and ditch 200 IM.
          That way he’ll have even better speed.and maximize more his chance in 100 fly, not to mention great chance to medal in 100 free.

      • aswimfan says:

        If I were him, I’d only train and focus on 50/100 free and 100 fly and ditch 200 IM.
        That way he’ll have even better speed.and maximize more his chance in 100 fly, not to mention great chance to medal in 100 free.

        • Scott H says:

          Forget the 50 free for Phelps. He will never be able to swim a 50 free. If I were him I would spend all my time focusing on the 100 fly, 100 back, 200 back. I still think he has unfinished business in the 100 and 200 back.

          • aswimfan says:

            I realize that Phelps will never be able to be competitive in 50 free, but training 50 free will help his 100 free and his speed in 100 fly.

            I also don’t think he’ll go any faster in 200 back. Being older means you can get faster in short distances but not longer ones.

  9. Swm says:

    I reckon he’d be a better chance in 200im especially if they change the breaststroke pull out rule, the fly kicks would suit him

  10. Hugo Miller says:

    27 years old with that competitive mindset… how can he not make a comeback? Reminds me of MJ… just trade golf for baseball. At 27, he is in his prime…. I think he could do even greater things w/ a brand new focus. I hope he does come back, he’s just a thing of beauty to watch.

  11. JackedAndTan says:

    Bobo’s wrong. MP has had an incredible, unprecedented career in long course swimming. We’re yet to see his full potential in short course, and his best years are probably behind him but would still be fun to see make a push for SCM becoming more prestigious.

    • Jackedtan, I think even if Phelps went to SC.. SC would not become prestigious, just like SCY is not outside the US.. SC will never become nearly as prestigious as LCM just because it is LCM that is worth the Gold OG medal and the WR that people really care about

      • Justin Thompson says:

        Totally agree with Rafael and also LCM separates the men from the boys. You can have success in SCM and completely fall out of contention in LCM.

  12. Roger von Oech says:

    Off topic: big congrats for making your website now (easily) readable on smartphones! Thanks for putting the work in to make the changes. Much appreciated!

    • Braden Keith Braden Keith says:

      No problem, glad you like it. It’s something that’s been on our radar for a while, and Davis nailed it.

  13. Swimmer says:

    Debbie Phelps wants to go to Rio, Bob is returning from his “sabbatical”, Schmitty is coming back after her graduation and Kalisz needs a training partner… Michael is leaving his options open. Remember, he wants to grow the sport of swimming. With all of this speculation, it brings him back to the news and hope remains that he’ll make a comeback. I think he will make an announcement that after some time off and much thought, he has decided that he still has goals to obtain.

  14. Liliana says:

    Oh my God, it’s Ian Thorpe situation all over again. We’ll be reading reports from ‘reliable’ sources how Phelps is secretly training somewhere in Dubai…
    I personally don’t believe he’s eager to compete again, but if it is true and if Frank Busch has known that for some time, he shouldn’t have betrayed Phelps’ trust. He should have kept the secret for himself, because that’s how Phelps wanted it, obviously. What on earth Peter Busch was thinking?

  15. WHOKNOWS says:

    He needed time off – time to do few things he hs not been able to do… no pressure to do anything in 2013. Look for him to be go back home to NBAC!

  16. mcgillrocks says:

    I don’t want to see Phelps come back for a number of reasons, and this scares me

    a) I think swimming needs new names. Unquestionably Phelps has done a lot for the sport, I grew up watching him and following his successes. But I think swimming needs some new names who are going to carry the sport past this decade and into the 20′s. Phelps might make afew quick headlines but there will be a time without Phelps and I don’t think long term he can do any more to help the sport

    b) I don’t want Phelps to be remembered for retiring and unretiring. Raise your hands: how many of you were pleased with Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA. When Jordan came back he was good but relatively mediocre. We don’t need Phelps coming back and swimming 2 individual events and some relays for 5 years. Also take Brett Favre. Great football player but we remember him more for coming out of retirement three times than for winning 3 MVPs. What do you want to be more memorable: Phelps’s 6 gold medal spree in Athens or winning two golds and a bronze at the 2017 worlds?

    c) What is amazing about Phelp’s career is that it is perfectly arranged. If you think of it in eras it went from “Vast potential” (’01 to ’03) to “Unworldly dominance” in the middle from ’04 to ’08 to “Victory lap/Defense ot title” (’09 to ’12). Or in terms of Olympics it went like “Amazing Start” (2000) to “Almost unheard of dominance” (’04) to “Greatest Ever” to “Triumphant Victory Lap.” His best years were smack in the middle, with his peak just a little past halfway, making him go out on a higher note

    This might be just me, but I don’t want there to be a “victory lap take 2″ from ’14 to ’16 and then a “helping hand stage” from ’16 to ’20. I like it right where it is: accentuated by two major peaks in the middle of his career in ’04 and ’08 with less impressive but great peaks in ’00 and ’12. We don’t need Athens and Barcelona ’03 to be footnotes in the beginning of his carrer, we need to to stand out in the middle. Also, maybe I’m just OCD but I like an athlete to have his best years towards at middle/end of his career (’08 fits the bill for me), like MJ’s first 3 peat or Elway winning two straight Super Bowls. Not something like Eric Dickerson or Tom Brady where they enjoyed enormous success early on but then never matched it

    • Eagleswim says:

      Jordan won three titles after his first comeback.

    • MarkB says:

      There weren’t 5 players in the history of the NBA that were better than the out-of-retirement ‘mediocre’ Michael Jordan! (The first out-of-retirement MJ)

  17. james says:

    Let’s be honest…if he really skipped Rio and came back in 2020 – that would be a comeback. Until the 2016 Olympic trials are over, and no “Phelps” is on that qualifier list, he is on no more than an extended vacation.

    Granted, it does take longer to get back into elite shape as you get older, but I would consider 3 full years adequate time.

    • anonymous says:

      I’m sure we all want that story of phelps career to be painted perfectly…but the thing is…this isn’t our life. As swimswam mentioned…we don’t own our idol athletes. I’m so grateful to everything phelps has done for the swimming world. If he comes back, I cannot WAIT to watch him race. And if he doesn’t…it certainly has been an amazing decade of dominance.

    • aswimfan says:

      You are right.

      That’s why when Phelps announced his retirement before London, I kept saying he’d be back before Rio, and I didn’t consider it as retirement.

      It’s a very good strategy, actually.

    • MarkB says:

      Exactly. Rebecca Soni has swum in as many meaningful meets since London as MP and no one is fretting about a comeback.

  18. Eddie Wang says:

    I just hope this means that we don’t see any more golf on swimming forums.

  19. German Guy says:

    If he’s not fast enough, he won’t make the team, will he? Where’s the big deal?
    Paul Biedermann still has the world record in the 200 & 400 Free.
    He won’t be going to this year’s world championships because he was ill for the trials.

    • Philip Johnson says:

      Where did Biedermann come from? lol yes, he has the WRs, but zero Olympic medals to his credit.

    • aswimfan says:

      Whats Bierdemann doing in an article about Michael Phelps come back?

      • German Guy says:

        Well, maybe Michael Phelps would like to take down Biedermann’s 200 Free world record once and for all. If he stops training for the 400IM & 200Fly… (Sorry I mentioned the 400-Sun Yang will take care of this summer)
        My point about everyone worried about how MP will perform is forgetting that he swims for the USA. He doesn’t get a free pass to swim at major events.
        We will see what happens. Like Anthony Ervin says, “Just keep swimming”.

  20. john26 says:

    The one thing you’ve got to remember is that Phelp hasn’t taken 5 years off like Thorpe. He has only just stopped swimming. Remember, he took something like 6 months off post Beijing and posted times that were on par with what he did in Beijing in Rome (albeit in less events, which is what he’d have to do). He’s been gone, what? 8 months? I would not be surprised if he started training intensely, he could swim a tapered 146 this summer.

    His comeback, whatever it would amount to, would be much more than a Hansen comeback than a Thorpe come back. My recommendation would be to not start this early, probably swim for fitness reasons for about a year, which would probably be enough to finals places in panpacs, and go from there with the goal of not peaking for WC’5, but the Olympics– so as to not burn out a year or two early (I’m looking at you Geoff Huegill)

    • Jg says:

      Geoff s comeback was more of a modern pilgrimage . His aim was the Commonwealth Games 2010. He succeeded in this beyond expectations. This in turn led to other great things & he did not need London .

      IMO Geoff was the most beautiful butterflier ever . Some thing a medal is never the reward.

  21. john26 says:

    His stated intention was a comeback for london 2012. The commonwealth games were merely a stepping stone.

  22. aswimfan says:

    Very short retirement seems to be all the rage among US swimmers. First Berens (that must be the record for shortest retirement ever!), and now MP.

  23. DanJohnRob says:

    I would love to see Michael attempt a 4-peat in the 100 fly! Only 2 Olympians, Carl Lewis (long jump), and Al Oerter (discus) have accomplished that in history. I think it would be a bad idea for him to attempt the 200 IM AND the 100 fly because, unless there is a change in the Olympic swimming schedule I am not aware of, he would have to swim the semi of 100 fly the same session as the final of 200 IM. I think both Michael and Bob are too smart for that; they know his recovery time between events is longer now than it was before, and that could be risky. I also think the 50 free is unrealistic for him because he never had easy speed at the beginning of his 100 races like most sprinters. I WOULD love to see him try to go for the 100 free though. I doubt he could win the gold, but if he were to medal in that and the fly he would have the record for most individual gold medals. I think he went for the 400 IM to tie that record in London, obviously without success. Until a real talent emerges in the 100 fly, we could really use him on that relay, and we still need some depth to emerge in the 400 FR. Most of all, it would be terrible if he looked back on his fantastic career with any regrets! No matter what he ultimately decides, he deserves to know he made the right decision for HIM

    • No one thinks that Phelps could be a 21 swimmer.. but if Phelps wants to take down the 47 mid and 47 low swimmer (Which by 2016 there probably would have more than Magnussen and Adrian) he would need to train a lot of 50 free to get some front speed.

      • aswimfan says:

        Totally agree with Danjohnrob that he needs to drop 200 IM. Doubtful he’ll get any faster in 200 IM.

        But I also agree with Rafael in that if Phelps wants to be competitive in 100 free and have chance to medal, he needs to train in 50 free.

    • Liliana says:

      Don’t forget he wasn’t a 100% prepared for London games. We all know his struggle to motivate himself through 2010 and even 2011, to the extent. If he REALLY wants to train for 2016, the best way he can, he will be more than ready for 100 and 200 events.

  24. KP says:

    Yes Yes Yes!!!! I was hoping he’d get bored. He’s only 27, for goodness sakes. There are many world class sprint athletes in other sports up into their early thirties. Endurance too, actually. You just have to train smarter. I would love to see Phelps experiment with USRP training. I doubt BB would be on board with that. But it could be fun for Michael to try, and prevent the burnout of daily grind. Or at least check out what the Dutch are doing– kicking butt for such a small nation. He could always go back to his old way of training if he didn’t like the results of the USRP.

  25. David Berkoff says:

    Zzzzzzzzzzzz. What is the crazy interest about an unconfirmed “comeback” less that six months after Michael’s retirement? Do people really have that little faith that US swimming can’t fill Michael’s shoes? Sad.

    • MarkB says:

      Yes! Name the swimmer (singular, not plural) that would fill them.

      • David Berkoff says:

        Don’t get me wrong. I think another round of Michael would be great–especially if he takes more of a leadership/mentors hip role with the next generation of athletes. But yes, there are plenty of up and coming new swimmers who will fill his shoes. It’s insulting to think otherwise.

        In the flies, look at Tom Shields who really hasn’t scratched the surface of his abilities. In the IMs look at Chase Kalicz and David Nolan who I believe will translate his short course successes to long course.

        In the frees, look at Conner Dwyer and a load of new up and coming 200 swimmers. In the backs, wow, USA Swimming is simply loaded.

        • Danjohnrob says:

          I wanted to tell you how much respect I have for you! MP, Ryan Lochte, etc., owe you a big debt of gratitude because you were the first person to demonstrate how important underwater dolphin kicks could be to improving race times. I wonder if any of them have sought you out to thank you, because they really should. Also, when I was coaching, I attended a clinic you ran in RI, and you really made a big impact on the swimmers I was working with at the time. Thank you for your contributions to U.S. swimming!

    • aswimfan says:

      David Berkoff,

      So you don’t believe that MP will “unretire”?

  26. dave says:

    What did Lochte say……..my word I hope this is true! And agree with some comments regarding 100 free and fly…I’ve mentioned many times on FB that he could easaily get medal in 100 free when you consider his relay splits….was fastest of US team in London and broke US record leading off in Beijing…and of course the 100 fly…..would be close to Le Clos but for sure must ditch IM’s / 200 fly / 200 free….

  27. Billy says:

    I bet he stays retired. He has nothing to prove, has a ton of dough and is probably sick of the training grind.

    That does not mean he will not swim for recreation to stay in shape, it’s great exercise.

    18 Olympic gold medals and a few silver and bronze. I think he is finished, but I’ve been wrong before.

  28. Tea says:

    I can only get on board with this under one condition. He never again shows up at an international meet… medals… and complains how out of shape he is. He lost a lot of respect from me in 2009-2011. If he wants to be a competitive swimmer, he is blessed to be able to make that his job. If he doesn’t want to swim, I don’t see the benefit of proving that he can beat 99% of swimmers without putting in much work.

  29. NOSTRADAMUS says:

    Phelps was golfing today and no signs of him in the pool yet. In an appearance earlier this week he again denied coming back. I’ve looked long and hard into the future, as most of you are aware, and I see no Phelps in the Olympics in 2016. Let’s put this to rest.

  30. Lithi says:

    Sorry I’m late, but wow. Gotta love how some of you made what is really Phelps’ and Phelps’ decision alone and made it about yourselves.

    He may be the greatest, but he’s also a grown-ass man who should be able to do what he wants without the peanut gallery going up in arms over it. If he intends to do it, it will be for himself; he has no need to answer to anyone, especially some of the loons here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

About Braden Keith

Braden HC Profile Image

The most common question asked about Braden Keith is “when does he sleep?” That’s because Braden has, in two years... Read More »