“I was a train wreck,” he told ESPN. “I was like a time bomb, waiting to go off. I had no self-esteem, no self worth. There were times where I didn’t want to be here. It was not good. I felt lost.”
He retired from the sport after winning 18 gold medals, but underneath the surface were unresolved issues from his past. One of the biggest resulted from his parents’ divorce when Phelps was nine-years-old, and a “complicated” relationship with his father, Fred Phelps, a Maryland state trooper.
“I felt like he was abandoning me and I didn’t put any energy into something I thought was a dead-end street,” Phelps told ESPN.
Bob Bowman, Phelps’s coach, became a father figure, but even he became disillusioned by Phelps’s erratic behavior. “After the bong photo, Michael didn’t trust anybody, except for me, his mom, and maybe a couple other people. He was wary of everything,” Bowman said.
Following the London Olympics of 2012, Phelps retired as the most-decorated Olympian of all time. “I was finished; I wanted nothing to do with the sport. I was done,” he told ESPN.
But retirement brought a newfound freedom that was intoxicating at first. “I gained 30 pounds. I probably had too much fun. Whatever I wanted to do, I did. I was a little twerp,” he recounted.