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Rowdy Gaines thinks Michael Phelps will return to swimming

May 19, 2013
Rowdy Gaines

Rowdy Gaines

Rowdy Gaines had a difficult time finding one person who believed him when he said publicly last summer that he didn’t think Michael Phelps was done swimming competitively.

Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever, had announced his retirement at age 27 following the 2012 London Olympics. With nothing left to prove, it was widely believed his swimming career was over.

Then on Friday, WBBH, an NBC television affiliate in Fort Myers, Fla., said Phelps plans to return to swimming with an eye toward adding to his collection of medals — 22 total, 18 gold — at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Phelps immediately brushed off the report via Twitter, writing, “Do (people) really believe everything they hear or read?”

But Gaines, a three-time Olympic gold medalist who now works for USA Swimming and as a broadcast analyst, maintains that it’s more than an assumption that Phelps will indeed make a return to competitive swimming very soon.

“I always thought he should come back because he has the rest of his life to do whatever else he wants,” said Gaines, who is in the desert this weekend as part of the Swim to Win 2013 campaign to promote drowning awareness. He also said there are things he knows that he prefers to keep off the record.

“I thought that a year ago and I never have changed my opinion. No way,” he said.

If Phelps does return to the sport that made him an international icon, he’d be 31 by the Opening Ceremonies of the Rio Olympic Games having already competed in the previous three. Yet, perhaps now more than ever, many swimmers are still competing at a high level beyond their 20’s.

Three-time Olympian Aaron Peirsol acknowledged as much Saturday. Though he retired at the age of 27 in 2011, he noted that there are different motivations for every Olympian and said it’s possible Phelps isn’t done competing.

“It would be pretty cool, man,” Peirsol said of a Phelps comeback. “I think if he does, the sport would be better for it. … But I have no idea if he has decided to (come back) or not.”

Gaines says Phelps has nothing left to prove. He’s impacted the sport more than anybody. He said as a competitor, though, you don’t want to look back in 20 or 30 years and wonder if you could have squeezed a little more out of your abilities.

“I know he has 80,000 gold medals already,” Gaines said. “But still, you don’t want to have that eating at you. ‘What if I would have come back? What if I would have made one last run?’ Especially if he still has the desire to compete.”

Gaines said Phelps certainly wouldn’t be expected to win as much as he did in 2012, though he would likely be favored to win the 100-meter butterfly, the 200 individual medley and any of the relays. Gaines believes he can still be a powerhouse in the sport and “an incredibly viable asset to his team.”

The reason Phelps is downplaying the report, Gaines said, is because he wants to make the announcement on his terms, in his time and in his own way.

And when the time is right, Gaines believes Phelps will eventually make that announcement that he is coming back.

“I think he’s coming back,” Gaines said. “I think USA Swimming desperately needs him.”

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