Two sports superstars nearing the end of their careers. Both competing in their fourth Olympics and both holding packed press conferences on the same afternoon.
Michael Phelps and Roger Federer.
Neither has much left to prove. Phelps, 27, has won 16 Olympic medals and set numerous swimming world records. Federer, 30, has claimed 17 Grand Slams and been ranked No.1 longer than any other tennis player.
So how do they approach these Games? For Phelps this is clearly a swan song and his last major competition.
“This is the closure,” Phelps said Thursday at a packed press conference. “And it’s really how many toppings do I want on my sundae?”
Phelps knows he can’t do any better than the 2008 Games in Beijing, when he won eight gold medals and set seven world records. “I guess everything there was like perfect,” he said. “I had everything leading up to it that was perfect.”
That won’t be the case in London, where he is competing in seven races and faces formidable opponents in each. “I found that recovery is more important nowadays than it was [in 2008]. My body is older,” he said.
Things have changed a lot for Phelps. He has been criticized by one teammate, Tyler Clary, for lacking motivation and young swimmers like Missy Franklin don’t seek out his advice. Phelps brushed off the comments by Clary, who apologized, and said he’s still having fun swimming. He is also not keeping track of his medal count. “You guys are the ones that keep bringing up the medal count up. Never once in my career did I say anything about medal counts. I’m here to swim as fast as I can. If I do that, that’s all that matters.”
Federer hasn’t had nearly the same Olympic success as Phelps. He has one gold medal, from the doubles competition in 2008. But he is just as proud of it.
“It was the most incredible feelings I’ve ever had on a tennis court,” he told a slightly less packed press conference held a couple of hours later. “I know it’s maybe the doubles and not the single but nevertheless nobody can take that away from me and [partner Stanislas Wawrinka].”
The Olympics, he added, “have taught me a lot. Just seeing other athletes practice mixing ideas up with them.”
And while this will be Phelps’s last Olympics, Federer might be back.
“I have plans in place for next year and beyond that,” he said adding that competing in the 2016 Olympics is possible. “The mind is telling me it wants me to play and I hope the body allows me to do it as well.”