Commentary

Phelps ready to dry off for good

Updated: May 22, 2012, 11:40 AM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

PhelpsAthit Perawongmetha/Getty ImagesIf you are looking for Michael Phelps after the Olympics this summer, try a golf course.

Michael Phelps can't wait for these coming Olympics -- to end.

"I'm so sick of the water," he says, rubbing his face. "Even when I go to the beach with my friends. They're like, 'Why won't you get in?' And I'm like, 'Do you have any IDEA how much of my life I've spent in the water?'"

I not only don't think he'll compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics, as his mom told "60 Minutes" she hopes he does, I don't think he'll ever compete again. Neither does his coach.

"I think he'll be done competitively after London," Bob Bowman says.

The Human Fish is ready to try land.

"I want to play all the great (golf) courses," says the 26-year-old Phelps, who is even taking lessons from Hank Haney. "(Bowman) gave me a poster with the 100 greatest courses in the world on it, and every time I play one, I put a little pin in it."

How many pins so far?

"Zero."

He wants to travel. He wants to stay out late and not worry about 5:30 a.m. endurance drills. He wants to see more of the world than the bottom of its pools.

"People say to me, 'You're so lucky. You get to see the world.' But I don't. I go to the hotel and to the pools and back again. That's it."

But you were at the World Aquatics Championships in Shanghai. What'd you see there?

"Nothing."

Rome?

"Zero"

Athens?

"Almost nothing."

If it's possible to feel a teeny bit sorry for a man with 14 gold medals, you should for Phelps. To win them, he's given up so much, like his youth. And when -- after his eight golds at the Beijing Olympics -- he finally stopped to take a breath, somebody caught him taking it out of a bong. He was digitally crucified and probably lost millions.

Being the greatest swimmer in history is a job you do even in your sleep. Literally. For the past year, Phelps has slept every night, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., in a hyperbaric chamber set to 8,000 feet.

"I call myself The Boy in the Bubble ... I get the most interesting reactions. People are like, 'Wait? What is that? Do people come out of there alive?'"

It'd be tough on your romantic relationships, you'd have to admit.

You think Phelps made up incredible time to win the 100 meter fly in Beijing? Wait until you see the rest of his life.

"I want to go to the World Cup. I want to go to the Masters. I want to go ... anywhere. Really, if you invite me somewhere after this, I'll go."

This is not new. Phelps and pools have always glared at each other. It's like Gallagher hating watermelons.

"Even in high school, I'd tell my mom I was sick of swimming and wanted to try to play golf. She wasn't too happy. She'd say, 'Think about this.' And I'd always end up getting back in the pool."

If it were me, I'd have quit four years ago. After Athens and Beijing, what is left for Phelps to prove? What do you paint after the Sistine Chapel?

As it is, Phelps and Bowman and the swimming media have had to sprain their brains dreaming up motivations for London.

[+] EnlargePhelps
Al Bello/Getty ImagesMichael Phelps with his eight gold medals from the Beijing Olympics.

What events will Phelps swim in 2012? The secret everybody wants to know!

Can he pass 1960s Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina's 18 medals and become the most decorated Olympian in history? What do you mean you never heard of her?

Can Phelps take back the role of America's Best Swimmer from Ryan Lochte, who won four individula golds to his two at the World Championships? Knuckles-in-teeth!

In reality, Phelps is the guy patting his stomach as he leaves the all-you-can-eat joint when somebody walks up and offers him a large pizza.

"If you want to know the truth," Phelps says, "the first three years after Beijing my training was really kind of a joke. I couldn't find any motivation. But then, in June (2011), I found it again. I just decided if I'm going to do this, I'm going to have fun. And I am having fun. This is the happiest I've been since Beijing."

That's been a relief to his legendary coach, Bowman, who has been with him since Phelps was 11.

"You can lead a Phelps to water but you can't make him swim," Bowman says. "Actually, the first three years, you couldn't even lead him to water."

From Athens to Beijing, Phelps probably had four days off. Total. From Beijing to today? "Probably 200," says Bowman. "And then, last June, he just started showing up again."

I'd just love to see Phelps swim his last event in London, rip off his goggles and go, "I am SO going snowboarding."

This year, Australia's five-time gold medalist swimmer Ian Thorpe, nearly 30, tried an Olympic comeback in Australia but failed to make the team.

Can you see yourself making a comeback in your 30s?

Phelps looks at the question like you just presented him with the head of his dog on a platter.

"Me? At 30? Swimming? Oh, no. Oh, God, no! At 30, I'll be playing golf every day."

No more spending his life with his head down, staring at wide blue lines. No more hair turning green from chlorine. No more life lived on a stopwatch. The boy is leaving the bubble.

I'm glad for him. And I hope he plants a bunch of those little pins in his 100 greatest courses poster.

Avoiding the water as he goes, of course.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com