Michael Phelps Discusses Djokovic, COVID, and Lia Thomas in a CNN Interview

In a vulnerable conversation with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about the pandemic and its impact on mental health, swimming legend Michael Phelps is specifically asked about the controversies surrounding tennis star Novak Djokovic and the Australian Open, and University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas

Djokovic, who is currently the world’s top ranked men’s tennis player, has sparked a media frenzy surrounding his vaccination status and his Australian visa being revoked, reinstated, and revoked again at the time of this story’s publication. 

When asked about his stance on the Djokovic debacle, Phelps says, “As athletes we are role models.”

“We all need to be on the same page if we’re going to get through [COVID] together,” says Phelps. He continues, “I hope that we can agree on something and make it through [the pandemic] without losing more lives.” 

While the most decorated Olympian of all time has been very open about his personal struggles with mental health, his interview with Amanpour marks the first time that he’s publicly commented on the pandemic itself. “I had COVID and it was terrible,” Phelps says. “I literally thought that I was going to die for 36 hours.” 

Upon arrival in Australia last week, the Australian Border Force canceled Djokovic’s visa saying, “[He] failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements.” Australia has a vaccination requirement for all individuals, and while Djokovic believed he had received a medical exemption because of a late-December bout of the virus, border patrol agents canceled his visa.

Djokovic was subsequently detained until Monday when a judge ruled that he was allowed to stay in the country. In an appeal hearing, the tennis star’s legal team successfully argued that he had natural immunity from the virus from contracting it in December, which then qualified him for a medical exemption from Australia’s vaccination mandate. 

Djokovic’s press conference following his visa reinstatement on Monday was abruptly cut off when the tennis player was asked about him attending events after knowingly testing positive for COVID. In a statement on his Instagram from Wednesday, Djokovic admitted to attending a photoshoot and an interview with L’Equipe in Serbia on December 18, after being notified of a positive test result from a sample collected on December 16. 

The tennis player wrote, “I felt obligated to go ahead and conduct the L’Equipe interview as I did not want to let the journalist down.” 

He continued, “On reflection, this was an error of judgment, and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment.” 

While awaiting his COVID test results, a maskless Djokovic attended a children’s sport awards event in Belgrade on December 17 and explained that his rapid antigen test from that day was negative. 

Today, Australian immigration minister Alex Hawke announced that Djokovic’s visa was being revoked again saying in a statement, “Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.”

An appeal hearing to determine if Djokovic can play in the Australian Open, which begins on Sunday, will take place in Australia’s Federal Court on Saturday. If Djokovic’s bid for visa reinstatement fails, he may be banned from obtaining an Australian visa for three years. 

Djokovic is currently tied for 20 Grand Slam wins with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. If his visa is reinstated, which seems increasingly unlikely, and he wins the Australian Open, Djokovic would have 21 Grand Slam titles, and hold this record solo.

At the end of the interview, Amanpour asked Phelps about another controversy in the sports world. Phelps was asked about his thoughts on University of Pennsylvania swimmer Thomas. 

Speaking from a doping perspective, Phelps explains that he doesn’t believe he ever competed in a clean sport. “It has to be a level playing field,” he says. 

“We all should feel comfortable with who we are in our own skin,” says Phelps. “This has been my sport for my whole entire career, and honestly the one thing I would love is for everybody to compete on an even playing field.”

In the first few years of his retirement, Phelps, the most-decorated Olympian in history, was relatively-quiet about issues in swimming more broadly. That began to change last summer, though, when he sat in on NBC commentary during the US Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games, where he began to open up more, including sparking headlines when he leveled criticism at US relay selection as well as Michael Andrew’s training.

Phelps is a former American swimmer who competed in five Olympics (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016). He is a 28-time Olympic medalist, with 23 golds to his resume. He is most known for his perfect Olympics in 2008 where he went 8-for-8 gold medals in Beijing. He holds the all-time record for Olympic gold medals. 

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Rafael
3 days ago

His name is not Djokovic, it is Novax DjoCovid.

Monteswim
Reply to  Rafael
3 days ago

Lol

Yoo
Reply to  Rafael
3 days ago

my god that was cringe

Rafael
Reply to  Yoo
3 days ago

I am over 30 years old.. so I am automatically cringe..

Cate
Reply to  Rafael
2 days ago

Lol

Irish Ringer
Reply to  Rafael
3 days ago

I was hoping the Joker could bag another slam and become the GOAT of Tennis.

Rafael
Reply to  Irish Ringer
2 days ago

He can create his own torunament, we can call it omicronfest with the opening being done by the Andrews

Holden Caufield
3 days ago

“… the one thing I would love is for everybody to compete on an even playing field.”

It’s good to hear the GOAT speak up for the integrity of women’s swimming.

McKeown-Hodges-McKeon-Campbell
Reply to  Holden Caufield
3 days ago

can’t wait for this comment section to blow up with the fallacies about his wingspan and lung size

Little Mermaid
Reply to  Holden Caufield
3 days ago

Is that good enough for the NCAA to change things?

AFlyer
Reply to  Little Mermaid
3 days ago

No time. Busy trying to figure out the definition of Olympic sports.

Holden Caufield
Reply to  Holden Caufield
3 days ago

Here’s a tangential thought. Some of you may remember the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match in 1973 between Billie Jean King and former Wimbledon champ (and self-described “male chauvinist pig”) Bobby Riggs.

That match was a stunt, and 50 million people watched it on TV.

Why not have a similar televised “stunt” between a top flight woman swimmer, say, the 2016 Olympic bronze medal winner in the 400 free, and the Penn swimmer who has been in the news lately.

You could call it the “Battle of the Leahs.” I know I’d tune in to watch it

Awsi Dooger
Reply to  Holden Caufield
3 days ago

Not a stunt. Bobby Riggs had already defeated Margaret Court handily on Mother’s Day. That lent legitimacy to the match and put extra pressure on Billie Jean King. She conceded as much at the time and countless times subsequently.

McKeown-Hodges-McKeon-Campbell
3 days ago

Serbia VS Michael Phelps: Round 3

Jazzy
3 days ago

It’s Raphael Nadal. 🙂

McKeown-Hodges-McKeon-Campbell
Reply to  Jazzy
3 days ago

and Rafael

Last edited 3 days ago by McKeown-Hodges-McKeon-Campbell
Jazzy
Reply to  Jazzy
3 days ago

Rafael Nadal -;) – correct

Virtus
3 days ago

“Even playing field” sports will never be relatively close to that, almost everything is based on predisposed advantages and work ethic plays a mild role in accomplishment. Although I do agree that we should limit the gaps as much as possible, specifically in this situation with transgender

Horninco
Reply to  Virtus
3 days ago

Things we can’t control vs things we can

Nothing in life is fair, but some things are inherently unfair and can be prevented or avoided

Greg
Reply to  Virtus
3 days ago

Yeah, I’ve seen an equation for sports success look like:

success = talent + work ethic + time + opportunity

For most sports, swimming included, talent is clearly the most important factor. I would perhaps restructure it to be more like:

success = talent x (work ethic + time + opportunity)

For most of Phelps’ swim career he had the work ethic, and he did put in the time. Opportunity well beyond most in swimming was given to him to train with a great coach at a great swim club, to be able to travel to major swim meets, eat those 6000 calorie breakfasts, and generally live comfortably growing up. But obviously the X factor was being blessed… Read more »

CollegeSwammer
Reply to  Greg
3 days ago

This was beautifully articulated

NICK
Reply to  Virtus
3 days ago

“Work ethic plays a mild role in accomplishment”. Do you swim?

Rafael
Reply to  NICK
3 days ago

Well… Sherer, Gary Hall Jr were not exactly a prime example of work ethic…

HJones
Reply to  NICK
3 days ago

Compared to talent, work ethic is not as much of a barrier of entry to determine whether or not you can be a great swimmer. If Phelps had 50% of the work ethic he actually had during his career, I’d bet he’d still have a decent career OG medal haul.

oxyswim
Reply to  HJones
3 days ago

We don’t even need to speculate on that! Phelps has said he didn’t work very hard from after the 2008 games until his first retirement, regularly skipped practices, was getting kicked out of practice by Bowman with some frequency, and was drinking more than he should have been. Still won 6 medals at the 2012 games in London.

Unknown Swammer
Reply to  oxyswim
3 days ago

I think these arguments are vastly underestimating the work ethic and time that went in well before the 2000 games even. I’ve seen many incredibly talented age group swimmers that never had that and got passed by kids/high schoolers who would simply out work them, and they never made it to the college level. That desire and work ethic is every bit as important as the talent. Can’t be the best without a whole lot of both.

dlswim
Reply to  NICK
3 days ago

There’s no question that at the world-class level, talent is the most important characteristic. There are people who will be great swimmers at the high school or club level because they work hard, but will never be world-class because they don’t have the talent. Talent also includes the mental capacity to withstand the psychological pressures that come along with competing at a very high level.

CollegeSwammer
Reply to  Virtus
3 days ago

I think there’s a large difference between biological advantage/socioeconomic advantage/ vs the Lia situation affecting how level the playing field is, but I think he toed the line well. He is both fully aware of mental health and of doping in sports, so I’m sure he’s torn between not wanting to harm Lia during a mentally challenging time in her life and not wanting to promote doping inadvertently

Cate
Reply to  Virtus
2 days ago

Ummmm, work ethic plays a HUGE role in accomplishment. What you said is an excuse that people use when they don’t achieve their goals. Sports, as well as other walks of life, are littered with people of average talent who achieved great things as well as people with great talent who flamed out.

BearlyBreathing
3 days ago

Thanks for this article. Even though it was on CNN I guess I must have completely missed it.
I tried three browsers to view the linked video of the interview. None was able to play it. I’m disappointed because I wanted to see if his complete answer on the Lia Thomas issue was as much of a tactful dodge as the summary in this article made it appear.

greg
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
3 days ago

He tactfully dodged anything with a hint of controversy. Couldn’t even explicitly recommend that everyone get vaccinated, which was quite disappointing.

HJones
Reply to  greg
3 days ago

It’s not MP’s responsibility to tell you whether or not you should be vaccinated, as he is nothing close to a medical professional. He holds no more authority in this manner than the self-described “moron” Joe Rogan (who actually thinks you should be vaccinated if you are old or in a high-risk demographic, but thinks it is unnecessary for young, healthy individuals to get the jab–something I disagree with, but the media has mostly mischaracterized his stance on this topic).

Last edited 3 days ago by HJones
kazoo
Reply to  HJones
3 days ago

Joe Rogan–one of MANY examples of what’s gone wrong in America. A crazy guy who’s on the airwaves spewing dumb, ill-informed opinions that appeal to…the dumb, ill-informed people who listen to him–and all the while Spotify (and other companies) are happy to host fools like him on their network so long as they get ratings and make money for the company. Howard Stern, at his juvenile worst, never offered dumb medical opinions.

Corn Pop
Reply to  kazoo
3 days ago

I believe he has many listeners outside of the US . One I know is a British trained fully MD accredited Psychiatrist.

Cate
Reply to  Corn Pop
2 days ago

So?

HJones
Reply to  kazoo
2 days ago

Tell me you’ve never actually listened to Joe Rogan’s podcast without telling me you’ve never listened to the podcast.

Irish Ringer
Reply to  kazoo
1 day ago

Having listened to both, I would say Rogan is more credible than Stern. He did have the inventor of, or at least contributed to the process of an MRNA vaccine on the show which agree or not has a level of credibility that 99.9% of the population can’t attest to on this subject.

swimapologist
Reply to  Irish Ringer
17 hours ago

Malone did not invent mRNA vaccines. He was the lead author on some rudimentary research that was pivotal to the work that ultimately created mRNA vaccines, but he did not invent them.

He also thinks he was fired unjustly and suffered from what was called “intellectual rape” by those who went on to use his advances to create actual medical breakthroughs, like mRNA vaccines. He’s incredibly bitter about other people profiting off his fundamental work without him getting any action, so he’s also got every reason to lie to undercut the vaccines.

It’s funny how when you start digging, you can assign motive for anyone to lie, isn’t it?

BearlyBreathing
Reply to  greg
3 days ago

I see. Well I guess when you are as valuable of a name in sports as he is you have brand advisors showing you how to take the safe middle ground during an interview on controversial topics.
And CNN please stop being lazy af and start paying some eager intern to transcribe your videos rather than just shovelling them onto a webpage.

Cate
Reply to  BearlyBreathing
2 days ago

He pretty much said he didn’t know. My impression is that to him this is a work in progress which is what I think too. I honestly don’t know how I feel. To say that a transgender female doesn’t have an advantage is biologically inaccurate. What to do? I’m truly not sure.

If you Google Michael Phelps, it will bring up the CNN story and your link should play.

StuartC
3 days ago

Phelps sounding more and more like a politician. He managed to answer the 2 questions without saying anything of real value! C’mon Phelps! Don’t sit on the fence. Answer the questions!

ALDASP
Reply to  StuartC
3 days ago

Maybe I am reaching, but it sounds pretty obvious what he is thinking to me…

Former swimmer
Reply to  ALDASP
3 days ago

Right. He said it’s not an even playing field with Lia. Pretty clear.

i was right kalisz would win
Reply to  ALDASP
2 days ago

Some people need everything told to them in the most direct and tactless way possible. Phelps has a lot of sponsors and he knows he’s toast if he slips up and says something the twitter folk rabidly disagree with.

Fulldraw
Reply to  i was right kalisz would win
1 day ago

Doesn’t matter if you’re “toast” when you already own a “bakery”… he can afford to defend his positions with more conviction

Irish Ringer
Reply to  StuartC
3 days ago

Most topics are about 50/50, but Lia that’s about a 90/10 if not greater with 90 wanting no part of it.

Last edited 3 days ago by Irish Ringer
Cate
Reply to  StuartC
2 days ago

Then you weren’t listening.

Xman
3 days ago

Has there ever been any talk in locker rooms or talk in tight not groups about Phelps and doping?

I’ve never heard anything like I did with Dara Torres and some others I’ve never heard of any lawsuits like Lance Armstrong had.

One thing I have noticed is the people who seem to be mostly vocal about it end up getting caught.

SCCOACH
Reply to  Xman
3 days ago

yeah we talked about it regularly in my small tight knit group in the locker room. The speculation is that the dope was mixed in all the pancakes he was eating, and that bisquick pancake batter somehow masked the dope so he wouldn’t pop positive. This is the first time I’m making this public, please keep my identity a secret Braden.

Xman
Reply to  SCCOACH
2 days ago

🤣

CollegeSwammer
Reply to  Xman
3 days ago

Lilly King is doing okay, I’d say she was pretty vocal. Adam Peaty hasn’t been caught either, and he said they should all get a lifetime ban with no warning. Mack Horton has stayed clean too, by all evidence to this point. “Swimmer who is very against doping has still not been caught doping” is a really anti-climactic article headline to put out there

HJones
Reply to  CollegeSwammer
2 days ago

If Mack Horton is doping, he definitely isn’t taking the right stuff, considering his trainwreck of a split in Tokyo.

HJones
Reply to  Xman
2 days ago

Any claims about Phelps doping have been entirely unfounded. Most of the claims made about Thrope were the same ones made about MP–i.e., he had physiological traits consistent with HGH use, the superhuman surge he had at the end of races must be the result of EPO or other blood doping, etc. Thrope actually had an AAF for elevated testosterone and LH, and while his name was eventually cleared, I’m still very skeptical as to how quickly ASADA decided to dismiss any guilt on Thrope’s part before WADA and FINA did, as ASADA’s argument essentially was, “well he’s retired, so we should let him be and not pursue this any further”.

Torres is a different case entirely. While there… Read more »