Michael Phelps was open about his mental health problems, even when he became the most distinguished athlete in Olympic history.
FILE – In this file photo from August 9, 2016, Michael Phelps has tears in his eyes when he shows off his gold medal afterwards The 200-Meter – The men's butterfly finals during the swimming competitions at the Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016. While swimming to Olympic glory, Phelps found consolation in the pool and some fear, because he is ready to share his story of depression and awareness for sharpening mental health problems, Phelps will receive the fifth annual Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion in Boston on Tuesday evening, May 21, 2019. (AP Photo / Michael Sohn, File)
Now that the games in Tokyo have been suspended due to the corona virus, retired swimmers fear that some athletes may have problems coping with this unprecedented shift.
"It's a total bamboozle," Phelps told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "There is such a wave of emotions. I cannot imagine what these athletes are going through."
In a phone interview from his home in Arizona, where he resided like so many others around the world, Phelps was reluctant to praise the International Olympic Committee for having postponed the games until 2021 while the world was changing concerned with the pandemic.
"To be honest, my first thought was that I was relieved," he said. "Now there is a greater chance that we can beat this thing and do what we have to do to save as many lives as possible. I was glad that they made a wise decision logically. It's just frustrating that it is took so long. "
With the expected official postponement of the Olympic Games, Phelps turned to world-class athletes who need to deal with a further change in their preparations, despite the cutbacks in training and the lack of human contact from around the world to deal with efforts to contain the virus.
Since retiring in 2016, Phelps has spoken of a total of 23 gold medals and 28 medals of depression and anxiety after an unprecedented Olympic career. He even had suicidal thoughts at his deepest points.
He knows that this is a challenging time for those who had their sights set on the Olympic Games, which were due to open on July 24, but have now been delayed by up to a year.
"As athletes, we are so regulated," said Phelps. “At this point, all of the work is done. We only optimize the little things to get to this point. Now it says: "Oh … we are not competing." All of these emotions start to blaze. I really think that mental health is so important right now. "
Phelps said the key to coping is to keep things as simple as possible.
"Just control what you can control," he said. "We are in such unknown waters. We get all these big questions: what if? What if? What if? It is so difficult to understand. It is difficult for us to just wrap our heads around it."
When Phelps thought back to his own career, he said that he probably could have handled a shift in the prime of his career because he had focused so hard on his goals. But he probably would have faced a delay until the 2012 London Games when his motivation waned and he wasn't even sure if he wanted to compete.
"I barely held it together by the seams," recalled Phelps. "I don't know if I could have made it another year."
He retired to London to return to the pool less than two years later with a newly discovered passion that led him to five more gold and silver medals in Rio.
Phelps said he would be happy to offer advice and a shoulder to lean on to any athlete who would have problems in the coming weeks and months.
"Some people have already contacted and asked questions about what they can do," he said. "Everything I can do to support my friends and others who want to try to achieve their goals and dreams, I will do. This is a great time for mental health. It is more important than ever now. I hope that at this point everyone is mentally and physically looking after themselves. I am always available and open to anyone who needs help at any time. "
The 34-year-old Phelps is happily married and has three young sons. Although he has no plans for another comeback, he is still involved in the sport through a swimwear company and other business activities.
He was looking forward to taking part in the Olympic Games for the first time. He hasn't been to Japan since his breakthrough at the 2001 World Championships.
"I am someone who really loves and enjoys sport at the highest level," said Phelps. "I obviously know what it takes to get there. I was really looking forward to seeing how everyone was doing. "
He is still planning to take part in the Olympic Games.
But like everyone else, his plans continue.
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