23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps noted his support for the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Tuesday night. The Olympics were officially moved to 2021 on Tuesday following an announcement by the International Olympic Committee.
“I was shocked that they hadn’t canceled before this,” Phelps told NBC Sports' Tim Layden. ”I couldn’t see a way for it to all work out. We’ve had issues in the past, the air quality in Beijing, and the Zika virus in Rio, but this seemed so much bigger. It didn’t seem like something that could be managed or controlled. I just didn’t see the dots getting connected.”
Phelps supported the IOC's decision, though he expressed concern over the mental health of Olympic athletes. Phelps has been open about his previous depression and suicidal thoughts. Since retiring in 2016, he has emerged as an impactful mental health advocate.
“I really, really hope we don’t see an increase in athlete suicide rates because of this. Because the mental health component is by far the biggest thing here," Phelps told Layden. "This postponement is uncharted waters. We’ve never seen this before. It was the right decision, but it breaks my heart for the athletes.”
Phelps completed his historic career in 2016 with 23 Olympic gold medals. He captured a record eight golds in Beijing in 2008 and finished his career with gold medals in the 200m medley, 200m butterfly, 4x100m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle and 4x100m medley in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
The IOC's postponement of the 2020 games marks the first occasion in which the modern Olympics have been postponed. The Olympics were canceled due to war in 1916, 1940 and 1944.
There are more than 431,100 confirmed cases of the coronavirus globally across at least 168 countries as of Wednesday morning.