Mental health ‘much more important than winning a gold medal’ for Michael Phelps

At 37 years old, the Baltimore ‘shark’ has forged a new career away from the pools. “I’d rather have the chance to save a life than win another gold medal,” he explained during his visit to the Demain le sport forum in Paris.

After years of hiding his depression, Phelps is dedicating his new life to mental health prevention in sports. “Too many Olympic athletes have committed suicide. I don’t want to lose a single member of my Olympic family anymore,” he breathes.

Phelps began to suffer from depression in 2004 while competing in the Athens Olympics. In Greece, the American had yet to win eight medals, including six gold, the start of a crop that concluded at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, with 28 medals, including 23 titles.

“I didn’t want to live”

“Playing in competitions was what I liked the most. I was a shark, I smelled the blood in the water and I kept going,” she admits. But at the time, Michael Phelps feared that admitting what he suffered would be seen as “a sign of weakness and could give other competitors an advantage.” “I lived through a time when I didn’t want to live,” he admits.

Involved in the production of the documentary “The Weight of Gold” on the mental health of athletes, Phelps salutes Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka and American gymnast Simone Biles for revealing their inner ills. “I applaud Naomi. He expressed what was happening on his social media, in his own words. It’s not the easiest thing to do,” he said.

“When you look at what happened with Simone Biles, she had to put up with all of that during one of the biggest moments of her career,” adds the 37-year-old former swimmer. “It shows how mental disorders come at unexpected times. It can happen like this,” he said, snapping his fingers. “We need more people ready to open up and share their experience,” says the Baltimore “shark.”

“Finding the Balance”

Now the father of three children ages six, four and three, Phelps has a life that “never ends” with his wife Nicole. “He travels the world, working with sponsors or giving motivational talks. “(Nicole) I could tell you there are days I wake up and feel great, and the next day I might wake up and be completely different, so it’s really about finding the balance for me,” he breathes.

In addition to his lectures, Michael Phelps “looks for ways to be himself, authentic.” “I swim. We built a gym in our garage. I keep a journal. Phelps retired in 2016, after a two-year hiatus in his career. “It allowed me to transition into the next chapter (of my life, editor’s note) which now focuses on mental health. »

As for the possibility of starting a coaching career, Michael Phelps dismissed the idea out of hand, saying there was “no chance” he would follow in the footsteps of his former coach Bob Bowman. However, he does not rule out the idea of ​​having a role within the US team or the International Swimming Federation (Fina), but “not now”. “A lot of things have to happen, there has to be a change. »

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