x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Phelps out of retirement for good reason?

It was reported on April 14, 2014 that Michael Phelps is coming out of retirement, the first step toward possibly swimming at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Rafael Neddermeyer/Getty Images
It was reported on April 14, 2014 that Michael Phelps is coming out of retirement, the first step toward possibly swimming at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Rafael Neddermeyer/Getty Images
I tried to buy Michael Phelps a drink once.

I am not saying that to brag because the moment played out like many have before for the Olympic champion.

At the time, he was at least two years removed from a record-breaking performance at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and was just hanging out with friends at a local restaurant in his native Baltimore. I was with a group of friends as well and there was an immediate buzz in the air as soon as he nonchalantly walked in.

As soon as the excitement started to settle down (and after all the girls in the place had applied a fresh coat of lip stick), I walked over to the bartender and asked if I could buy his next drink. After all, it is not everyday you get to hang out near the most-decorated Olympian in history. The bartender sort of smirked at me and continued what he was doing.

"Yea, you want to buy him a drink?" he asked. "Well, get in line. I don't think he has paid for a drink in this place. Ever."

I will admit, it was not a very original idea. But at the same time, I was not going to gaulk at him from a distance or ask for an autograph.

Just from looking at him - surrounded by a few friends in a neighborhood restaurant on a Thursday night - it was hard to tell that he was a world-class swimmer in the prime of his career. He looked just like a normal guy.

But what I could not see on the surface was Phelps' undeniable drive to win and a completive fire that still burns inside of him. It made me think about, and then appreciate, the level of competition some athletes live by.

You always hear about athletes that cannot walk away because they cannot find another way to channel that completive edge. Brett Favre, Evander Holyfield and Roger Clemens are just a few that come to mind. But the most unsettling one, who has grabbed recent headlines, is Phelps' former swimming rival Ian Thorpe.

I guess Phelps, who has reportedly come out of retirement to take aim at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, just got bored with his life outside of the pool. Hanging out in Baltimore. With friends. Being just a normal guy.

I wish him luck.

agray@thenational.ae