MESA, Ariz. -- One year after announcing his return to swimming here, a humbled Michael Phelps once again took the podium in Mesa, Arizona, to begin a new journey.
Last year, Phelps came out of retirement to begin his comeback at the Arena Pro Swim Series at Mesa. On Wednesday, the most decorated Olympian announced his comeback in Mesa after a 45-day stay at an alcohol abuse treatment facility and a six-month suspension from USA Swimming following a DUI arrest, his second, in 2014.
“I did more growing up in the past eight months than I have in the rest of my life. It’s been some of the most challenging times of my life,” said Phelps, who counts 18 gold medals among his 22 total. “But it’s life. And I’ve been able to come out with a clearer head.”
After being coy about his intentions at last year’s press conference, Phelps happily admitted this time that his goal is to compete at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
|Michael Phelps smiles at a press conference before the Arena Pro Swim Series at the Skyline Aquatic Center on April 15, 2015 in Mesa, Ariz.
“You guys heard it here first. Like it’s a big surprise,” Phelps said. “I have my goals, and they’re lofty.”
Since his return to Baltimore in November, Phelps has largely spent his time training at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center in Mount Washington and being with his now-fiancée Nicole Johnson.
“I’m looking at swimming a lot better than I have since going into 2012,” Phelps said. “I come in with a purpose. I come in to work with a purpose every day, and it’s been a while since I’ve done that.”
The star has largely kept out of the limelight until Wednesday’s press conference, and he said he’s ready to turn a new page. He said that he feels like he’s swimming faster than he has in over four years and has done so by going back to the basics and just enjoying his time in the water.
“To just come in and swim fast every day is exciting,” he said. “To be able to get back to some of the times I had in 2007 and 2008 workout wise, the fire, the passion and the excitement is back.”
Phelps will swim his first race in over seven months this week at Mesa. He’s scheduled to compete in five races between Thursday and Sunday but may still scratch from one or more of the events.
While he hopes to race in Rio in 2016, Phelps seemed to accept that he wouldn't be joining the U.S. team at this summer’s world championships in Kazan, Russia. As part of his punishment, Phelps was removed from the U.S. roster. He addressed the situation without being prompted Wednesday and said there are no hard feelings about the decision.
“It’s obviously very challenging for me to not be able to compete at the world championships,” Phelps said. “But I will be in full support of everything they do over there, and I wish them all the luck in Kazan.”
Phelps also said part of the excitement surrounding his comeback was the release of his new product line.
“My goal from (age) 15 was to change the sport of swimming,” Phelps, now 29, said. “To be able to have this kind of impact on a product and be able to help design things like suits is amazing.”
Phelps said the products, created in partnership with Aqua Sphere, would be geared toward all age groups, from those beginning to swim to professional swimmers. He said it’s just part of his journey, and the process helped him realize how big of a change swimming has gone through over his career.
During his time off, Phelps said he became closer to his family and fiancée than he ever had in the past. He said he hopes to prove to himself, his family and the fans that he is all-in on his recovery.
“Of course I would like to show everyone in the world that I’m in a better place now and have changed, but I understand that’s going to take a lot of time,” Phelps said. “To be able to prove to whoever I need to prove it to that I am different and I have changed. This weekend will be the first opportunity I have to back that.”
When asked what the difference has been going into this comeback versus a year ago, Phelps said it all has to do with his attitude.
“Have I screwed up? Yeah. A lot. I’ve never gone through this experience before,” he said. “But I can literally say this is the happiest now that I’ve ever been in my life. I’m in tune. I’m aware of everything that’s going on and I’m excited. These are the things I want to be doing.”