If Michael Phelps somehow decides to compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, he could have a chance to win more gold medals than ever before. But he’s not interested — and not just because at 31, he decided to retire (again) last year. An apparent swimming traditionalist, Phelps doesn’t like the idea of expanding the sport to include more events in the upcoming Games, including a men’s 800-meter freestyle, a women’s 1,500 freestyle and the one that would benefit Phelps the most, a 4×100 mixed relay.
“When you add something like an 800-meter for men and a 1,500-meter for women, and you’re adding mixed relays and 50s of strokes. I don’t want to say it, but it seems like there’s too much going on,” he said Thursday at a promotional event (via NBC Sports). “It seems like, so then we’re going to grow the team by a handful of other people? I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s what swimming has been through all of this time, and hopefully we don’t have it for too long, but it’s not in my power. I can’t really do anything. I’ll just sit and watch.”
Phelps likened the changes, which the IOC approved last week, to the controversy over swimming’s short-lived high-tech suits, which ended up being banned in 2010 for enhancing performances too much.
“It’s just like what we had in 2009, after world championships, having those high-tech suits. It’s not swimming anymore,” he said. “We’ve had this event schedule for so long, and now we’re just going to pick and choose what events we want? I could go into more detail, but I’m really not going to. It’s a touchy subject.”
Phelps, who’s won 23 Olympic golds, said he’s not against adding more swimming events because it could bring someone else closer to breaking his Olympic medal record, including Katie Ledecky, who will undoubtedly benefit from the addition of the women’s 1,500, which is already held at the world championships. Thinking about the added races from that angle, Phelps changed his tune.
“It’s great to be able to see Katie potentially go for eight,” Phelps said. “I think it’s great to see different events added for Katie because then you can really challenge where her limit is. … Then you bring a lot more excitement to the sport from a marketing standpoint.”
Speaking of marketing, Phelps is all in when it comes to personal opportunities to further his brand. On Thursday he announced he’d be competing against a great white shark as part of Discovery’s “Shark Week” later next month. The details about the event remain unclear, likely because it’s a gimmick and not an actual race, despite Discovery’s hype that “the race is on!”