Michael Phelps Discusses Childhood, Fatherhood, And More On Matt Lauer’s “On Assignment”

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Photo Courtesy: Brooke Wright

Olympic legend and new father Michael Phelps was featured with Matt Lauer’s “On Assignment” Sunday night, opening up to the journalist about his relationship with his father, the inner demons he’s battled over the last years, and his experience becoming a new father himself.

Matt Lauer joined him on the side of the pool at Arizona State, where Phelps is currently training for what will be his fifth Olympic Games. Throughout the interview, Phelps divulged about his much publicized personal troubles following the London 2012 Olympics. When Lauer questions Phelps about his preparation for those Games, the 18-time Olympic gold medalist was brutally honest about how strong his frustration with the sport had become. He explains that after the 2012 Olympics, he was done with swimming. “I went in with no self-confidence, no self-love,” the Olympian says. “I thought of myself as just a swimmer, and nobody else.”

On top of that, his relationship with mentor and coach Bob Bowman had reached a toxic level. Asked if he thought Phelps would quit prior to London, Bowman responded that questioned whether his charge would make even it to the Games, going so far to say that he had hoped at times that Phelps would just throw in the towel.

Following London, Phelps struggled to find fulfillment in life, saying he was pushing people out of his life and refusing to deal with his own inner demons. That culminated on September 29, 2014, when he was pulled over and arrested for drunk driving, what he called a cry for help. Calling that the lowest point in his life, he secluded himself in his own house for four days before friends and family encouraged him to check into the Meadows, a rehab clinic in Arizona.

There, Phelps says, he was forced to confront something that he had been avoiding his whole life: his relationship with his father. Telling Lauer he realized he had feelings of abandonment and avoidance related to their relationship, Phelps said that the breakthrough happened when his father came to visit him in Arizona. There, he says, they had the best conversation in over twenty years and began to heal their relationship.

Speaking about his own impending fatherhood (the interview was taped prior to the birth of his son, Boomer Robert Phelps), Phelps admitted he was nervous about how to handle his new responsibilities, but was also confident it would be one of the greatest experiences of his life.

Ending the interview by looking toward Rio, Bowman states that compared to 2012, Phelps is a completely different person physically, mentally, and emotionally. As usual, the Olympian didn’t reveal his goals for the 2016 Rio Olympics, telling Lauer “not to waste a question” asking him. For the record, Phelps does have the opportunity to become the first male swimmer to win four consecutive gold medals in the same event, as well as become the oldest male Olympic gold medalist in swimming. But regardless of the outcome, he reveals that he’ll be satisfied of the outcome because he’s enjoying the process. “I’m giving an honest effort. I’m having fun again,” he said. “And this is something I haven’t had in a really long time.”