London: After winning 22 medals, including 18 gold (4 gold in London), over four Olympic Games, swimmer Michael Phelps has finally hung up his goggles. On Tuesday night in London, Phelps, who has won more Olympic medals than anyone else, spoke to a small group of journalists invited by official Olympics timekeepers Omega. Edited excerpts:

What goes through your mind before a race? Can you walk us through your typical race day?

Not really too much goes through my head. I know I’ve done all the work I need to beforehand. At that point, the only thing I have to do is get up and race. I just tune everything out. You need to be mentally tough, focus…basically all those parts of the equation that helps you become great at something.

It is something that my coach and I have worked on. Bob Bowman and I have worked on how to deal with every possibility. What if my suit ripped? My goggles fell into the water? We’ve prepared for things like that so that I don’t lose my focus and don’t forget what I am meant to do.

So many former American Olympians have gone to participate in ‘Dancing With The Stars’. Have you considered that?

King of the pool: Michael Phelps. Photo: Reuters

I won’t say I am ruling anything out. But who knows? If I had to choose another Olympic swimmer to partner with, it would probably be Natalie. She has done it all before.

What are you looking forward to doing next now that swimming is behind you?

I want to relax. If I wake up in the morning and decide to do something, I just want to get up, go and do it. It is kind of cool to be finally able to do that. I am looking forward to just not having anything to do at all.

What motivated you to keep coming back Olympics after Olympics? Why did you keep competing, extending your swimming career till you are 27?

One is motivation, just winning a gold medal for your country. That is very, very special. Doing it in front of an American crowd is great. There were some New Yorkers here in London. I was hoping to swim my final race in front of a home crowd when New York bid for the 2012 Games. But it has been great swimming here in London. I’ve been able to travel around London a little bit; it is a cool city.

I kept coming back because I had things to accomplish. I knew I wasn’t going to retire till I had accomplished them. It hasn’t been easy. The last four years, when I think about them, have been hard. There have even some ups and downs. But I wouldn’t change anything. Ultimately, I was happy with my preparations for these Games.

Now I can retire and say I did everything I wanted to. That is always how I have wanted to retire.

When some great players retire, they keep playing for themselves because they can now enjoy it. John McEnroe kept on playing even after he retired. Do you see yourself doing that?

(Pause.) Swimming is no longer something I want to do. I won’t participate in competitions. I have no plans for that. Maybe when I am on holiday and I see a pool or the sea, I might pop in for a few minutes. But it will no longer be something on my mind.

sidin.v@livemint.com

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