Born on June 30, 1985, in Baltimore, Maryland, Michael Phelps competed in his first Olympics at the age of 15, as part of the U.S. men's swim team. He went on to win medals at the Olympic Summer Games in Athens, Beijing and London, accumulating a total of 22 medals—18 gold, two silver and two bronze—and setting the record for the most medal wins by any Olympic athlete. Phelps announced his retirement in 2012, however, in April 2014, he announced he was coming out of retirement and would return to professional competition at the age of 28.
Michael Fred Phelps was born on June 30, 1985 in Baltimore, Maryland, to Fred and Debbie Phelps. The youngest of three children, Michael Phelps and his sisters grew up in the neighborhood of Rodgers Forge. His father, Fred, an all-around athlete, was a state trooper; mother Debbie was a middle-school principal. When Phelps's parents divorced in 1994, he and his siblings live with their mother, with whom Michael grew very close.
Phelps began swimming when his two older sisters, Whitney (born in 1978) and Hilary (born in 1980), joined a local swim team. Whitney tried out for the U.S. Olympic team in 1996, at the age of 15, but injuries derailed her career. At age 7, Phelps was still "a little scared" to put his head under water, so his instructors allowed him to float around on his back. Not surprisingly, the first stroke he mastered was the backstroke.
After he saw swimmers Tom Malchow and Tom Dolan compete at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, Phelps began to dream of becoming a champion. He launched his swimming career at the Loyola High School pool. He met his coach, Bob Bowman, when he started training at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club at the Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center. The coach immediately recognized Phelps's talents and fierce sense of competition and began an intense training regime together. By 1999, Phelps had made the U.S. National B Team.
At the age of 15, Phelps became the youngest American male swimmer to compete at an Olympic Games in 68 years. While he didn't win a medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, he would soon become a major force in competitive swimming.
World-Renowned Olympic Medalist
In the spring of 2001, Phelps set the world record in the 200-meter butterfly, becoming the youngest male swimmer in history (at 15 years and 9 months) to ever set a world swimming record. He then broke his own record at the 2001 World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, with a time of 1:54:58, earning his first international medal. Phelps continued to set new marks at the 2002 U.S. Summer Nationals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, establishing a new world record for the 400-meter individual medley, and U.S. records in the 100-meter butterfly and the 200-meter individual medley. The following year, at the same event, he broke his own world record in the 400-meter individual medley with a time of 4:09.09.
Shortly after graduating from Towson in 2003, 17-year-old Phelps set five world records, including the 200-meter individual medley at the World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, with a time of 1:56:04. Then during the U.S. trials for the 2004 Summer Olympics, he broke his own world again in the 400 meter individual medley, with a time of 4:08:41.
Phelps became a superstar at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, winning eight medals (including six gold), tying with Soviet gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin (1980) for the most medals in a single Olympic Games. Phelps scored the first of six gold medals on August 14, when he broke his own world record in the 400-meter individual medley, shaving 0.15 seconds off of his previous mark. He also won gold in the 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter butterfly, 200-meter individual medley, 4-by-200-meter freestyle relay and 4-by-100-meter medley relay). The two events in Athens, in which Phelps took bronze medals, were 200-meter freestyle and the 4-by-100-meter freestyle relay.
Just weeks following his triumph in Athens, Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Salisbury, Maryland, after cruising through a stop sign. He pleaded guilty to driving while impaired, was sentenced to 18 months probation, fined $250, ordered to speak against drinking and driving to high school students, and ordered to attend a Mothers Against Drunk Driving meeting. Michael called it an "isolated incident," but admitted to letting himself and his family down.
Phelps soon followed coach Bowman to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, studying sports marketing and management. Bowman coached the Wolverines' swim team and guided Club Wolverine, of which Phelps was once a member.
Phelps continued to establish world records at the 2006 Pan Pacific Championships in Victoria, British Columbia, and the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia. At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, Phelps won gold in the 4-by-100-meter medley relay, 4-by-100-meter freestyle relay, 200-meter freestyle, 200-meter butterfly, 4-by-200-meter freestyle relay, 200-meter individual medley and 100-meter butterfly. Every gold medal performance set a new world record, except the 100-meter butterfly, which set an Olympic record. Phelps also set the all-time single Olympics gold-medal record, surpassing swimmer Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven golds; he had won his 14th career gold medal, the most gold won by any Olympian.
In 2012, Phelps's Olympic medal count increased to 22, setting a new record for most Olympic medals (beating gymnast Larisa Latynina's prior record of 18). At the 2012 Olympic Games, held in London, he won four gold medals, in the 4-by-200-meter freestyle relay, 200-meter individual medley, 100-meter butterfly and 4-by-100-meter medley relay; and two silver medals, in the 4-by-100-meter freestyle relay and 200-meter butterfly. Phelps also holds the record for the most gold medals won in a single Olympics (eight gold medals at Beijing in 2008).
After the London Olympics, Phelps announced he was retiring from his sport. Phelps, however, gave some indication of a possible return in July 2013. The stellar swimmer would not rule out a possible Olympic bid for the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro. According to ESPN.com, Phelps told the press that "I don't know what's going to happen in the future" in terms of a return to competition.
In April 2014, Phelps put the rumors to rest and announced he was coming out of retirement with plans to compete at the Mesa Grand Prix in Arizona. The sports world continues to speculate whether Phelps will compete in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. His longtime coach Bob Bowman told the Washington Post:
“I don’t know yet. Honestly, we’re kind of taking it day by day. I don’t think either one of us has real expectations other than to have fun, see what happens and go from there. Unlike previous years, there’s no long-term plan.”
While he did compete at the Mesa Grand Prix, Phelps made a more impressive showing at the Pan Pacific Championships held that summer in Australia. There he won three golds and two silvers. But his behavior out of the water that fall cast a shadow on his triumphant comeback. Phelps was arrested in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland in September for driving under the influence, speeding and crossing double lines. He took to Twitter to discuss this incident, writing "I understand the severity of my actions and take full responsibility." Phelps also apologized to "everyone I have let down."