The Olympics were recently postponed this year for the first time in history. Host nation Japan and the IOC announced last week that the 2020 Summer Olympics would be pushed back one year to 2021. The global spread of the coronavirus has shut down professional sports all over the world, and it finally made its way to one of the most historic and iconic sporting events still held today. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, recently told NBC Sports that he supports the decision, but that he worries about athletes’ depression.
Phelps is now retired from Olympic competition, but he said he would be “flipping out” at the uncertainty of competing had this happened in his swimming days.
Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history
The modern Olympics can be traced back to 1896 in Athens, Greece. The ancient games can be traced back to 776 B.C. when the games consisted of just one event: a foot race. Over the entire history of the Olympic games, no one has more medals than Michael Phelps.
Phelps has won 28 total Olympic medals in swimming. The next highest medal winner only has 18. Phelps has more gold medals to his name (23) than anyone in history has total medals. He’s the undisputed greatest Olympian of all time, and it’s not particularly close.
Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina comes the closest to Phelps, but she is still 10 medals behind his record. She won 18 medals across three Olympic Games in the 1950s and 60s.
During the 2008 Games in Beijing, Phelps took home the gold medal in every one of the eight events he participated in. It was the most dominant performance in a single year of Olympic history.
Michael Phelps retired twice in his swimming career
Michael Phelps famously retired after the 2012 London Olympic Games. He had already won a record 23 total medals to that point, but he still wasn’t satisfied.
Phelps came out of retirement shortly after and returned to the pool two years later to train for Rio in 2016. He was just 31 years old at the time and said at the time that he was swimming faster than ever before. The Rio Olympics brought more of the same for Phelps. He competed in six events and won gold in six of them. The only race he didn’t win was the 100m butterfly, but he still won silver in the event.
Phelps retired for good after the Rio Olympics in 2016. Many thought he would get the itch to compete again and come out of retirement for a second time, but Phelps has stayed retired this time around. He is not scheduled to compete in the Tokyo Olympics when it is rescheduled.
Phelps wasn’t surprised the 2020 Olympic Games were postponed
In his talk with Tim Layden of NBC Sports, Phelps said that he supports the IOC’s choice to push the Games back a year. Phelps also said he can’t imagine what Olympic athletes must be feeling right now.
“Your whole life is pointed toward this moment,” Phelps told Layden. “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?”
Olympians have a short athletic career and only a handful of chances to compete. A postponement of any kind can be drastic for Olympic athletes. Phelps said he’s worried about the athletes’ mental health.
“I really, really hope we don’t see an increase in athlete suicide rates because of this,” Phelps said. “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.”
Phelps clearly feels for the Olympians affected by the decision but admitted it was the only option.