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

Former American swimmer Michael Phelps, the most successful athlete in the Olympics, “travels the world” to warn about the mental state of athletes, and the mission is “much more important than winning a gold medal,” he says in an interview. with AFP.

At 37, the Baltimore Shark began a new career away from the pools. “I would rather be able to save a life than win another gold medal,” he told AFP during his visit to the Demain le sport forum in Paris.

After years of hiding his depression, Phelps has dedicated his new life to sports mental health prevention. “Too many Olympic athletes have committed suicide. I don’t want to lose any more of my Olympic family,” he exhales.

Phelps began to suffer from depression in 2004 while competing in the Athens Olympics. In Greece, the American has won eight more medals, including six golds, beginning a crop that ended at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with 28 medals, including 23 titles.

– “I didn’t want to live” –

“Playing competitively was my favorite pastime. I was a shark, I could smell the blood in the water and keep walking,” he admits. But at the time, Michael Phelps feared that acknowledging what he was going through would be seen as “a sign of weakness and could give other competitors an edge.”

“I went through a period during which I did not want to live,” he admits.

Participating in the production of the documentary “The Weight of Gold” about the mental health of athletes, Phelps salutes Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka and American gymnast Simone Biles for exposing their internal illnesses.

“I applaud Naomi. She opened up about what she went through on her social media in her own words. It’s not the easiest thing to do,” he explains.

“If you look at what happened to Simone Biles, she had to go through all this at one of the most important moments of her career,” adds the 37-year-old ex-swimmer.

“It shows how mental disorders come at unexpected times. It can happen like that,” he said, snapping his fingers.

“We need more people who are willing to open up and share their experiences,” says Baltimore’s shark.

– “Finding balance” –

Now a father of three boys aged six, four and three, Phelps is leading a life that “never ends” with his wife, Nicole. “I travel the world working with sponsors or giving motivational speeches.”

“(Nicole) could tell you that there are days when I wake up and feel great, and the next day I can wake up and be completely different, so it’s really important for me to find a balance,” he breathes.

In addition to his lectures, Michael Phelps “is looking for ways to be himself, authentic.” “I’m swimming. We built a gym in our garage. I am writing a diary.”

Phelps retired in 2016 after a two-year career hiatus. “This allowed me to move on to 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 outright, 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 ​​taking a place in the American team or the International Swimming Federation (Fina), but “not now.”

“A lot has to happen, changes have to happen.”

Away from the pools, however, Phelps continues to follow the news about swimming and says he advocates for an “open category” for transgender swimmers.

“I think there should be three classes: men, women and transgender people to give everyone an equal opportunity to compete,” he explains.

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