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.