Michael Phelps is on the cusp of Olympic history. With three medals at the London Games, Phelps, who won eight golds in Beijing in 2008, will surpass former Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina as the most decorated Olympian of all time. In the months leading up to the Games, Phelps will play a major role in Visa's Go World campaign, and fans are encouraged to show their support for him here. SI.com recently sat down with Phelps for a wide-ranging interview.
SI.com: You recently said London will be your last Games. Could anything change your mind?
Michael Phelps: No. I've always said I don't want to swim past 30 and I know if I go one more, I'll be over 30. I don't want to ever be that person where people are like, God, he's this old and he's still doing it or he's been around for this long. So once I'm able to accomplish the goals that I have, if I can look back at my career and say I've been successful, that's all that matters to me.
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SI.com: Some athletes -- Barry Sanders and Jim Brown, to name a few -- have been criticized for walking away from their sports while still in their prime. Is that an unfair criticism?
Phelps: It's all personal preference. This is my 20th year in the sport. I've been able to do a lot of things that I've wanted to do and be a part of a lot of things. For me, I'm not going to be out of the sport; I'm just going to be out of it competitively. I'm going to be out of the pool and still continue to try to grow the sport as much as I can and take it to a new level -- that's always going to be a goal until it reaches its high point. ... I think there's a lot that the sport can do for people all over the world, and I'm going to do all I can to make it as big as it can go.
SI.com: How important is it for you to be considered the greatest swimmer in history?
Phelps: Like I said before, if I can look back at my career and say I've been successful, that's all that matters to me. People can criticize me if they want -- that's fine. But I know if I look back at my career and say I've done everything I've wanted to do, it doesn't matter.
SI.com: How does the level of pressure this year compare to the 2008 Games?
Phelps: I think I'm a lot more relaxed now than I was then. Just being able to accomplish something that nobody has done before and that was a goal of mine for such a long time takes pressure off and allows me to just go out and have fun. And just -- I don't know -- be more chill. [Laughs]
SI.com: Do you feel you still have something to prove on the Olympic stage?
Phelps: I don't think I've really reached my full potential. I still think there are a lot of things that I can still do to improve and there's a couple more months for me to fine-tune some small things that hopefully end up making a big difference.
SI.com: What do you hope to accomplish at the 2012 Games?
Phelps: I have goals. I'll leave it at that. [Laughs] There are things that I want to accomplish, and my coach and I are the only two that can really get there. He's the only person that can help me get there. We just never really found it necessary to have other people know exactly what my goals are, and hopefully at the end of the day we can look back and say we've done what we wanted.
SI.com: Is your training regimen different than in years past? If so, why?
Phelps: I think the biggest difference is the volume. I'm not doing as much volume now as I was four years ago. My body is older and I don't recover as fast. We're trying to fine-tune a lot of the small things, trying to pay more attention, whether its getting faster turns or tighter streamlines -- just little tiny things like that. These races at the Olympic Games or major competitions, they end up coming down to tenths or hundreths of a second, so you need to always make sure you can do all the small things right.
SI.com: U.S. swimming team director Frank Busch said the 2012 squad could be the best ever. Do you believe that, too?
Phelps: Sure. We have a lot of young faces, a lot new faces and they're just so excited. I train with Alison Schmitt, who is an up-and-comer, and she was in the last Olympics with us. She's just so relaxed and laid back and funny and always making jokes. We're constantly laughing every day in workouts. It's a different mentality than we've had in the past. I think it's going to be exciting. As I said, we have a lot of fresh faces and a lot of people that are looking forward to having the opportunity to go out and wear the Stars and Stripes and hopefully win a gold medal.
SI.com: Which country is poised to be the biggest rival for the U.S. in London?
Phelps: If we're as prepared as we can be, I think we're going to be competing against our own teammates. The American team has such a history of dominance in the sport of swimming, [and] we all want to continue that. We know that there have been a lot of amazing people who have swam before us and there are a lot of people who will swim after us. And I know they'll continue the tradition that we've had.