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For almost a year, the question was “if” Michael Phelps would return to competitive swimming.
Now that Phelps is scheduled to end his 20-month retirement Thursday in Mesa, Ariz., a more nuanced question looms: Why?
Phelps sounded fairly certain he no longer wanted to confine his life to the pool when he walked away from the sport after the 2012 Olympics. He had seemingly put the perfect exclamation point on his career, winning gold in his last race to bring his record medal haul to 22, including 18 golds.
But several longtime Phelps observers say they see an athlete who’s finally enjoying swimming on his own terms, without the pressure of outside expectations.
“I’ve never seen Michael this happy,” says former Michigan coach Jon Urbancheck, who has known Phelps since the swimmer was 11 and recently visited with him in Baltimore. “This didn’t come from his mom. It wasn’t [coach] Bob [Bowman]. This was his decision.”
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