Phelps comeback a bit of a wet idea

Picture by Esten Hurtle
Picture by Esten Hurtle

There’s are many good reasons not to get back with an ex. For a while everything goes swimmingly. The familiarity is a bonus, like emotional shorthand, saving you all the time it usually takes to get to know a new partner.

But familiarity does breed contempt. And before long, alarm bells ring, those annoying habits start getting on your tits again and you remember all too clearly why you broke up in the first place.

Digging a political grave Picture by Blue Mountains Library
Digging a political grave
Picture by Blue Mountains Library

Witness the former Aussie Prime Minister who invited himself back for a second stint. He had a short bounce in the polls but it only took a couple of press conferences for people to start swearing at their televisions and sharpening their pencils for polling day. We have a different Prime Minister now.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to Michael Phelps. At the end of the London Olympics, Superfish couldn’t get out of the pool quick enough.

“I’m so sick of the water,” he said. “There will be no more staring at that black line for four hours every day,” he said. “Once I retire, I’m retiring. I’m done,” he said.

The romance between Superfish and swimming had lasted 20 years. They had made beautiful golden babies together, 18 of them. So great were their achievements that the English language was butchered to honour Phelps as the ‘winningest’ Olympian ever.

And then it was over. Irrevocably, it seemed. Superfish had had a gut-full of the pool’s relentless nagging and swimming, like any sport a fickle mistress, went off in pursuit of younger talent.

Less than two years later, it’s all back on again. They’re taking things slowly, the pool and the fish, getting reacquainted with each other over shorter distances. No one’s talking wedding bells and Rio just yet.

But it’s a little sad that at the tender age of 28 and with so many possibilities before him, Phelps weighed up all his options and chose… swimming. Maybe it’s better the devil you know. But as his idol Ian Thorpe can no doubt counsel, that way madness lies.

After a piece I wrote last week on Stephanie Rice, a reader noted the litany of cautionary tales in Australian swimming, particularly among our male champions, about less than stellar transitions to retirement.

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Mean Machine member Neil Brooks turned to alcohol, bankruptcy and busking after leaving the pool. He tried his hand at commentary but was sacked after saying the event he was most excited about at the 2000 Sydney Games was ‘the after-Olympics piss-up’. (That’s him on the right back when swimming was particularly pleasing to the eye)

Scott Miller became intimately acquainted with the legal system, from the wrong side of the dock. Kieren Perkins admits to his own troubles coping with the initial two years of retirement, while the more recent travails of Grant Hackett and Ian Thorpe are sadly well documented.

Phelps seems to have fared better than most. But if he’s coming back to the pool it would suggest he hasn’t found what he’s looking for outside it.

Embed from Getty Images

We spend so much time and money turning these guys into superstars. We cheer them on and bask in their glory. And then we bid them farewell and ask them to embrace a life less extraordinary.

Maybe we could do more to equip them for the mundane pressures of mere mortality once they stop wearing the chlorine cologne. Maybe then they’d be able to stay out of the headlines. Maybe then they’d be able to move on to new passions.

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