Phelps wants to inspire next generation
Aquatics legend Michael Phelps plans to pass on his expertise to the next generation of budding swimming stars after retiring from competitive action as the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time.
The 27-year-old American called time on his career in the pool after taking his Olympic medal tally to 22, including 18 gold medals, after another golden performance at the London 2012 Games.
Phelps ended up with four gold medals in London – in the 100m butterfly, 200m individual medley, 4 x 200m freestyle relay and 4 x 100m medley relay – and two silvers as the London 2012 swimming competition drew to a close on Saturday.
However, having decided to “move on to other things” after years of hard work in the pool, Phelps is determined to retain a central role in the development of the sport.
“Whatever route I go down I'm going to have goals. I'm still a very competitive person,” Phelps said.
“There are a lot of things I want to do for myself just to be able to relax, and even though I am retiring and the competitive side of my career is over, there are a lot of things I want to do around the sport.
“I would like to take it [the sport] to a higher level than it is right now, and continue to grow the sport more and more.”
Phelps also has a charitable foundation, which has been set up to encourage positive lifestyles for American youngsters.
“I'm going to be able to put more time and effort into that and also my summer schools,” he added. “Being able to teach children how to swim and live healthily is something that's very important to me.”
Gregg Troy, the United States Olympic men’s head coach, said he is already starting to see the benefits of Phelps’ legacy in the pool. The performances of gold medal-winning duo Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin have also stoked interest in aquatics back in the United States.
“The sport’s profile is so much higher that we attract athletes,” Troy said. “We’re reaping the same benefits other sports have for years. High-profile athletes attract younger athletes to emulate.
“There are kids sitting in front of the TV now, girls that want to be Missy Franklin and maybe not play tennis. Guys who want to be Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte, and they’re not going to play football. So it’s constantly expanding the pool of talent that we have to work with.”
Katie Ledecky, who like Phelps hails from Maryland, is one such youngster to have been inspired by Phelps.
As a six-year-old, Ledecky met Phelps at a swimming meet. Nine years on, Ledecky, as the youngest member of Team USA, claimed the gold medal in the women’s 800m freestyle at the Aquatics Centre in London on Friday.
“Michael's and Missy's races really got me pumped,” Ledecky said. “I really wanted to see what I could do to represent the US.”
Those interested in the development of Ledecky will be able to check her progress at numerous events staged by the International Aquatics Federation (FINA) every year, but few would bet against her exploits having inspired even more youngsters to glory at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.