Michael Phelps’ Best Performance In Mesa: Engaging With the Fans

Michael Phelps after the 100 butterfly final at the 2015 Arena Pro Swim Series in Mesa
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Republic-USA TODAY Sports

Editorial content for the 2015 Arena Pro Swim Series Mesa is sponsored by Arena. For full Swimming World coverage, check out our coverage page.

Commentary by Jeff Commings

Michael Phelps won the 100 butterfly tonight at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Mesa, Ariz., in a time that won’t keep many of his rivals up at night — and Phelps knows it.

But, it is a great swim for his first time racing against a talented field since coming out of his six-month competition ban set by USA Swimming. He and coach Bob Bowman weren’t disappointed by the time, and will go back to Baltimore next week with plenty of positive takeaways.

The best thing Phelps did today at the Skyline Aquatic Center, however, did not happen in the pool. While the media waited to hear from the Greatest Olympian Of All Time about his 52-second swim, Phelps spent time inching along the barricade that was crowded with dozens of anxious fans waiting to gain an autograph. From the look of things, all of the kids went home with a new prized possession: a Phelps autograph. It made for a late night for Phelps, who was one of the last swimmers to leave the building.

“To be able to see a smile on kid’s face, there’s nothing like it,” Phelps said when he finally made his way to the media tent after a lengthy autograph-signing session. “I got a massage, and they sat there and waited and waited and waited patiently. They’re excited to be here.”

To hear those words from Phelps’ mouth at a swim meet came as much of a surprise as it was seeing him mingling with his young fans. Not to say that Phelps has never cared about his fans during his 15-plus years as an elite swimmer, but Phelps is never known to stick around for more than a couple of minutes at a meet to engage with the fans. It’s a different story when he’s not a competition, and he said the journey of rediscovery he’s been taking these past seven months has led to him altering his views on interacting with fans.

“I’m more engaged with everything,” he said, “and being able to take more time to try to connect with more fans is something that’s important.”

Just another positive aspect to come from his DUI arrest. Ryan Lochte will spend an hour signing autographs and taking selfies. Missy Franklin has been known to do the same. Phelps, shielded by security guards, often walks past the fans without as much as a wave. It would appear that his recent troubles took the blinders off and showed him what’s important in the sport, and it’s OK that it happened in what is likely to be the final 18 months of his swimming career. Better late than never.

Winning 22 Olympic medals has made him a living legend, but fans won’t remember most of those swims, or the tonight’s 100 fly. The kids who got to meet Phelps for just a few seconds tonight will remember that moment for the rest of their lives.

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8 years ago

Well done, Jeff … and Michael.

8 years ago

Everyone wins this way. Good for him

8 years ago

Awesome!! That’s the way it should be… #sharingthepowerofswimming in and out of the water.

8 years ago

I completely agree. Thank you to Michael Phelps for taking the time to sign my 7-year-old son’s autograph book. The look on his face was priceless. As he sat on his dad’s shoulders, he waited patiently for Michael to come to him. Finally he came, and Michael even made a comment that “it’s good to be tall.” This thrilled my son, who daily finds himself towering over all the other first graders at school, and may reach 6’8″ in height one day. Thank you Michael for taking time for your “little” fans!

J Andrews
8 years ago

Michael is the Tiger Woods of swimming. Everybody loves to see him win! JA