Michael Phelps: “I Would Have Straight Punted” Had The 2012 OLY Been Postponed

The most decorated Olympian of all time, American Michael Phelps, spoke with NBC Sports with reaction to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan having been postponed to next year.

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.

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Daniel Jablonski

I think this is the best take of them all.

Here Comes Lezak

Good perspective from the GOAT

Concerned Swimmer

My biggest concern remains in the selection process, particularly around the trials. Will a trials meet be held? Or will USA Swimming select a team based on criteria? If trials happen, when and where? Will the time standards or qualification period chance? The point Phelps makes is absolutely true for Olympic hopefuls. However, if the trials change, what will the response be to the hundreds of swimmers that worked to qualify for the trials as their meet? Imagine how drastic operations changes could impact their mental health and well-being, especially if the meet is not held or limited significantly. I have faith that contingency planning is taking place to ensure a full trials in late-2020 or early-2021 is possible. Could… Read more »


There’s a whole year to figure it out. Other things to worry about right now.


Voice of reason here. take a deep breath

If the Games are moved to the same time slot in 2021 as they were in 2020, USA Swimming said pre-postponement that they would just repeat the Trials that was planned for 2020 in 2021.

Any alternative plan would probably be fluid depending on when the dates are.

Ol' Longhorn

“fluid” – I see what you did there.


why would they hold trials in late 20 or early 21?

USA Swimming said that if the Olympics are still in late-July, they still plan to go to Omaha in the summer.

If for some reason the IOC/Tokyo decided that a January-April was the only feasible timeline, then the trials might be in late 2020 or early 2021.


Didn’t I hear that Omaha said “not so fast”? Or was that an unfounded comment?

Participant Ribbon

Given the announcement of July/August 2021, it’s basically postponed for a year. Same trials process could be ran through prior to that for the US and most other countries as well.

John c

On a positive note imagine a 2017 Olympic team with MP and 2017 Dressel… quite formidable!


Wow yes. Schooling would have missed his very small window in the 100 fly.

PK Doesn't Like His Long Name

Maybe. I can’t imagine Schooling’s form would have been worse in 2017 than it was in 2016, given that his drop-off was significantly impacted by winning the gold already. With another year of training, the race between him and Dressel in LCM would be been incredible.


Would’ve been a tough choice going with either Phelps or Adrian on the medley relay


Or imagine a supersuited ’09 games. Would MP still have bagged the 8 golds to cement his status as undisputed GOAT, and (more importantly) brought swimming to the attention of a much larger global audience?


Worlds 2009 suggest that he wouldn’t have won the 200 free.

Now he would have trained different in 2009 if 2008 had never happened

About Retta Race

Retta Race

After 16 years at a Fortune 1000 financial company, long-time swimmer Retta Race decided to change lanes and pursue her sporting passion. She currently is Coach for the Northern KY Swordfish Masters, a team she started up in December 2013, while also offering private coaching. Retta is also an MBA …

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