Michael Phelps Insightful in Role as NBC Guest Commentator

Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Michael Phelps looks out on the pool deck at a break in competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Phelps during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics -- Photo Courtesy: Grace Hollars/USA Today Sports

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Michael Phelps Insightful in Role as NBC Guest Commentator

The Tokyo Olympics marked the first Games since 1996 with Michael Phelps not competing, but he was in Tokyo, working as a guest analyst on select races during NBC Sports’ primetime swimming broadcasts with Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines. And when Phelps was not at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, he spent some time at the International Broadcast Center with NBC host Mike Tirico to offer commentary on swimming and other stories from around the Games.

Phelps called a handful of races over the course of the week, the men’s and women’s 400 IM on Day One and then the men’s 800 freestyle relay on Day Four, for example. Phelps utilized his experience competing in those races on the highest level to insert his insight into the discussion. For the 400 IM, he focused on staying controlled over the butterfly and backstroke legs, laying off the kick on fly and swimming the backstroke leg with a focus on arm tempo while still keeping the kick relaxed. For the men’s race, Phelps cited his longtime relationship with eventual American gold medalist Chase Kalisz and knowledge of Kalisz’s swimming to point out where Kalisz needed to be at each stage of the event.

When calling the 800 free relay, Phelps pointed out some of what he discerned as the U.S. team’s strategy, particularly with putting Kieran Smith first and seeing him go out hard. “I think getting out to this aggressive speed here is something we have to do,” Phelps said. “We’re two lanes over. We’ve gotta get out there, get into open water and see what we’ve got. Get into a race.” Phelps provided a connection to the swimmers by explaining what would be going through their minds at particular moments.

And while Phelps was good in the booth, he was better in the studio, where his two best moments came on the fourth day of swimming, before he went over to the pool for the relay. Asked about the situation where gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the women’s team competition, Phelps said he empathized with her and hoped that the situation would be a wakeup call for those doubting the significance of mental health in athletics.

On the same night, Phelps was critical of the American coaching staff for its decision to not use Caeleb Dressel as part of its 800 free relay. “It’s shocking,” he said. “In my opinion, he’s probably the best 200 freestyler in the world. He could probably put up one of the best times that we’ve seen. Leaving him off that relay, to me, I think it makes it a lot harder to win the gold medal.”

Phelps turned out to be a prophet about the race becoming harder for the American men, who missed the podium in an Olympic relay for the first time ever.

There’s no doubt that Phelps has strong insights into the sport he dominated for so long. Phelps has the most important tools: deep insight and knowledge into the sport, as well as passion. It was evident from the first race how much Phelps was enjoying sitting in that spot and sharing his deep knowledge of the sport with the country.

All week in Tokyo, Phelps contributed meaningfully and helped viewers become more knowledgeable about swimming and what they are watching, so NBC’s move to bring Phelps in for select races has definitely paid off. We’ll see if Phelps chooses to continue pursuing broadcasting on an occasional or more-than-occasional basis in the future, but his return to the booth would certainly be welcome.

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Sarah Waterman
1 year ago

Michael was a fine commentator. I hope he deides to continue. I would also hope the other commentators would allow him to speak and not interrupt.

1 year ago

What better commentator could you ask for than the greatest Olympic swimmer..

1 year ago
Reply to  Anonymous

He did a very good job as a commentator for the Olympics. I hope he continue to work in broadcasting for NBC Olympics as a commentator for the Swimming races.

1 year ago

Michael, is aware I’m a Fan of the Olympics. I think NBC is too.