In addition to expressing concern for athletes’ mental health, in line with his role as a passionate advocate both on a personal level, as well as through his partnership with Talk Space, Phelps revealed how he believes he would have responded to a delay in his last 3 Olympic Games.
First, on the mental health front, Phelps empathizes with athletes having worked so hard for a particular time-based goal, only to see it slip away for another 12 months (most likely).
“Your whole life is pointed toward this moment,” he said, “And then this huge curveball. `Nope, you’ve got to wait another year.’ If this had happened to me, I would be completely flipping out at the uncertainty. I mean, speechless. Like, is this a bad dream?”
“All of this is so hard to wrap your head around,” said Phelps. “I just feel really badly for all the athletes who have made it this far. On the one hand, I’m relieved that they’re getting another year, and rightfully so. But the waiting also makes it a lot more difficult.”
“I really, really hope we don’t see an increase in athlete suicide rates because of this. Because the mental health component is by far the biggest thing here. This postponement is uncharted waters. We’ve never seen this before. It was the right decision, but it breaks my heart for the athletes.”
In response to NBC’s question as to how he would have fared had the 2008, 2012 or 2016 Games been postponed, the 34-year-old dad of 3 said,
- 2008 (Beijing, where Phelps won a record eight gold medals): “I was totally locked and loaded,” he said, “But I had broken my wrist six months before the Trials and I was still getting better, I would love to have had another year.”
- 2012 (London, where Phelps was undertrained, disinterested and careening toward the crash that would come two years later, still won four golds and two silvers): “If the Olympics had been moved to 2013, I would have straight punted,” said Phelps. “I would not have shown up. That was the mental state I was in. I was mailing everything in, anyway, and I couldn’t have done that for another year.”
- 2016 (Rio, where Phelps closed out with those five golds and one silver, a triumphant finish to his career): “I would not have given up,’’ said Phelps. “No way in hell. I wanted to finish something that I hadn’t finished right. I don’t know what it would have looked like with a year off, if those games were postponed, but I would have found a way. The climb back to the top of that mountain was the best time I had I my career.”
You can read the entire interview on NBC Sports here.