Michael Phelps is heading into the Rio Olympics this summer as the most decorated Olympian of all time. But in an interview with TODAY’s Matt Lauer, the 18-time gold medalist revealed some surprising details about his last Olympics — that he didn’t even want to compete.
"Leading into London, I didn't want anything to do with the sport," Phelps told Lauer. "I think I was just over it. I think personally I had a lot of struggle getting through the four years after '08."
A lack of interest and a habit of missing practices, Phelps said, led to brutal fights with his longtime coach, Bob Bowman. And shortly after the games, in September of 2014, Phelps was pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence (the DUI also led to a six-month suspension from USA Swimming for violating its code of conduct).
"I sent myself down a downward spiral. I think it was more of, of a sign than anything else," he said. "That I had to get something under control, whatever it was. I look back at that night, and everything happened for a reason."
Asked whether it was a cry for help, Phelps responded, "I believe so. Yeah. I really do."
He continued: "I was at the lowest place I've ever been. Honestly, I sort of at one point, I just, I felt like I didn't wanna see another day — felt like it should be over."
Phelps eventually checked himself into a rehab clinic in Arizona.
"I think I was at a point in my life where something needed to change. And I needed to figure things out," Phelps told Lauer. "I don't know if it was, like, afraid of just letting go and showing who I am or what it was. And, and I finally was just, like, 'You know what? Screw this. I'm not, I'm not hiding behind anything anymore. I am who I am. And, and you don't like it, it's really not my issue and it's not my problem.'"
When Lauer prompted the swimmer to answer whether or not he considered himself an alcoholic, Phelps was ambivalent.
"I don't know. I honestly don't know," he said. "I know I have probably moments where I have gone off the deep end where I shouldn't. I would say binged more than anything else."
After completing 45 days in rehab, Phelps said he's ready to do whatever it takes to compete in the Rio Olympics this August.
"I want to be here. That's the difference. I had no desire to go to work out before," he explained. "I want to retire how I want to retire. And I have a great opportunity to do that. I mean, I haven't trained like this in a decade."
When Lauer asked him to come up with the ideal headline to summarize the ending of the upcoming games, Phelps offered a candid answer.
"It would say something along the lines of, I finally gave 100 percent," he said. "Or I'm happy to turn the page to the next chapter. I'm happy to move on from my swimming career and go out how I wanted to."