Michael Phelps says quitting drinking has been ‘incredible’ for his swimming

(Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)

Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Michael Phelps was in Orlando this weekend for an Arena Swim Series meet featuring the world’s best competing in some odd tune-up events and basically proving that Katie Ledecky is, indeed, beatable (you just have to put her in sprints or medleys). And though Phelps swam decently at the meet, it was a surprisingly candid and charming interview that was his highlight.

Speaking on NBC with Rowdy Gaines, Phelps sounded like a new laid-back man with few worries, far unlike the athlete who would speak prior to Beijing and London as if he had the weight of the world on his broad shoulders. 

It was those broad shoulders that were a topic of conversation at the meet. For the first time in years Phelps looked, well, ripped — like really ripped. That’s not a word you often hear in reference to swimmers. They’re not supposed to look like a linebacker The weight-training goal is for lean muscle, not mass muscle. In that, Phelps certainly has the right look and though training was clearly a big part of it, Phelps ascribes the transformation to something other than training:

Phelps went through a 45-day rehab stint in 2015 after receiving a second DUI the previous year. He said immediately after the DUI that he vowed to himself, before the court hearing and before his harsh suspension by U.S. Swimming (he wasn’t allowed to swim in the world championships, even though his six-month suspension had ended) that he wouldn’t have a drink prior to Rio, something he didn’t do before his historic performances in the previous two Olympics. 

(Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)

It’s working so far.

The discussion with Gaines was a swimming nerd’s dream. Phelps is so often asked banal questions in press by media members who aren’t familiar with swimming, so hearing his excitement at talking "real" swimming with U.S. swimming’s greatest supporter (Gaines) was a nice look into a different side of history’s greatest Olympian. He geeked out while he spoke, cheering when a young swimmer broke a NAG (national age group record) during a race, then lamenting that he didn’t get a similar record 14 years ago, exhibiting that amazing sports memory that allows Tiger Woods to remember his approach at No. 9 in the second round of the 2004 Masters or Peyton Manning to recall the exact play he used to throw his fourth touchdown pass in that historic season opener against the Ravens. 

(Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)

It was the loosest Michael Phelps we’ve seen, well, maybe ever. How will that translate? Rio begins in just under five months.