Michael Phelps Graces Sports Illustrated Cover: “I Was In a Really Dark Place”

Michael Phelps Sports Illustrated
Photo Courtesy: Sports Illustrated

Michael Phelps gives his most candid interview in his long career for the new issue of Sports Illustrated, talking about the demons that plagued him during his brief time away from the pool that ultimately led to a DUI arrest in 2014.

The article by Tim Layden offers some insight into the day Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol on Sept. 30, 2014, talking with Phelps’ family and close friends.

“Honestly, I thought the way he was going, he was going to kill himself,” Phelps’ longtime coach Bob Bowman said in the article. “Not take his own life, but something like the DUI.”

Layden writes of Phelps feeling shattered after the DUI, not leaving his Baltimore home for four days.

“I was in a really dark place,” Phelps said. “Not wanting to be alive anymore.”

That led to a 45-day stint in rehab in Arizona, which Phelps said made him “the most afraid I’ve ever felt in my life.”

Things turned around for Phelps after that. He got back into training last fall, despite withdrawing from the world championship team. He proposed to longtime girlfriend Nicole Johnson, and began to show signs of a rejuvenated Phelps.

Layden’s article, presented in an abbreviated version in the print edition of Sports Illustrated but available in full online, takes readers back to Phelps’ life after he won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. Phelps was undisciplined after that hefty week in China, unwilling to continue the training needed to stay at a top level. Alcohol and gambling entered his life. He finished fourth in the 400 IM at the London Olympics but still managed to become the winningest Olympian of all time with 22 gold medals over three Games.

The article also details Phelps’ transformation during his time in rehab late last year, when he “wound up uncovering a lot of things about myself that I probably knew, but I didn’t want to approach.”


  1. Coleen Gabhart

    He’s starting to look like Abraham Lincoln!

    • Nick Endris

      Can tell if that’s a complement cause it’s Michael Phelps or an insult cause he looks like crap in that picture

  2. Wyatt Fate

    Good lord he’s getting old

  3. Mar Herr

    I just see the best swimmer ever.

  4. Katie McNerney

    Still one of the best athletes on the planet and to speak up about his struggles makes him that much better!

  5. Dana Covington

    So so happy for Michael that he figured it out!

  6. Angi Bartley

    The psychology behind what happens when supreme athletes reach their goals? Where do you go when up is gone? How do you deal with it?

  7. Junaid Arif

    Where d0 i get his books …??

  8. Tom Cooney

    Swimming is grueling, repetitive … Takes place in an element we can’t breathe in … it takes lots of work and people to keep it fun … Teammates especially … Hats off to swimmers everywhere …

  9. Nancy Hogshead-Makar

    I am completely empathetic at the difficulty in making a transition from elite-athlete to success in the professional world. 1) an expectation that the athlete will be as successful in the new endeavor as they were in athletics. Lightning should strike twice. 2) the elite athlete is in a time-deficit in the new endeavor, as compared with peers. It takes humility. 3) Finding another endeavor that is worth putting your whole Self into. It was hard for me to find a new endeavor that was worth that level of commitment; the sacrifices necessary.
    Phelp’s struggles are amplified, but not unique. I feel for him, but it is doable. Go Michael!

  10. Bill Reetz

    Heard you were doing some rehab? Heal quickly!! Love.
    UBill & Sandy

  11. Amy Carroll

    Wow. Interested to read.

  12. Shannon McCabe

    I’m glad he’s got some insight as to why he developed a drinking problem, and I sincerely hope he can use that insight to stay sober throughout his life. Even after the competitive years are over for him, he has a lot to contribute to the world, and I really would like to see him do it.

  13. Sheryl Lavender

    Hate to say it but such an ugly photo but such a meaningful cover. Thanks!

  14. Yuly Northcutt

    Learn from your mistakes and move on. Lesson learned know an realize that you will choose not to be in that same dark place again.

  15. avatar
    Bill Bell

    Nancy Hogshead’s a greet example of an Olympic (co) gold-medalist 30-plus years ago who has become a prominent professional in an entirely different field, i.e., an attorney specializing I believe in gender equity issues, among other areas. she also opted to swim collegiately at a rather lis- key program (Duke) when she could have easily written her ticket to any major program in the country.

    As forbthe GOAT, all he did last summer in San Antonio wasn’t swim the fastest 100-200 flys/ 200 IM since he set the world- record in the former two @ the Rome World Championships six years ago and swam the second- fastest 200 IM all- time too.
    Were I a betting man (which of course I’m not’) I mite be tempted to visit Sin City and wager a few “Bob” on him to win that trio plus perhaps the 200 free @ a certain ” minor” meet in some obscure South Anerican nation next summer. No names need be mentioned of course.

  16. Erin Roscetti

    He is, simply put, an amazing and inspiring athlete

  17. avatar
    Bill V.

    Best swimmer ever & utterly unprepared for life as an adult. Here is where the swimming community needs to start discerning between being fast in the pool and being a role model.

  18. avatar
    Carolyn Yeager

    The secret to true happiness is in giving at least equally to receiving, something Phelps has never done. Every USA swimmer knows that, unlike most Olympians, Phelps was never gracious to them. Until he learns to be humble and kind, he will not be happy.

  19. Gordon Heck

    The most touching part of the story is when he talked about his friend Donnie, Donnie who loved bowling and was taken before his time like so many good men on Hill 34.