LONDON -- On his first morning of retirement, Michael Phelps couldn't sleep. Though he had stayed up until the early hours of Sunday morning celebrating the end of his career with friends and family, confusion reigned when 6 a.m. rolled around.
Though he was officially a "former" swimmer, his body had no way of knowing this. It did what it had always done for the past umpteen years: it woke him up.
"I could only get a couple hours sleep," he said. "I was restless."
And so began the next chapter of Michael Phelps' life. His first day as a retiree had a host of corporate responsibilities, including a news conference, smiles, handshakes and meet-and-greets. But beyond that, there were no official plans, and that's just the way Phelps wanted it.
Maybe he would sightsee in London. Maybe he would venture to Olympic Stadium to watch Usain Bolt run. Who knows? The point was anything and everything was now suddenly available to him.
"This is my first day," he said. "I don't even know what to do. I'm just living the dream right now, I guess. Just having fun."
Living the dream apparently included getting in front of a room full of reporters for the third time in less than 16 hours to talk about his past, present and future. But unlike previous events at the London Aquatics Centre and Main Press Center, this event featured more questions from around the world, including reporters from Brazil, Colombia, China, Great Britain, Nigeria, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.
Phelps hit on many of the main points he had made throughout the week, going back to his well-worn lines that he doesn't want to swim after the age of 30, he is thankful he no longer has to stare at the black line at the bottom of the pool and even though his competitive career is now finished, he isn't going to disappear from the sport entirely. Phelps said he still plans on doing everything he can to help swimming grow, insisting the sport "hasn't reached the peak I want it to reach."
When asked which of his 22 Olympic medals he appreciated the most, Phelps said his first, a gold medal in the 400-meter individual medley at the 2004 Athens Olympics. When asked which loss stung the most, he confessed it was his defeat at the hands of South Africa's Chad le Clos in the 200 butterfly this past Wednesday night.
"If I can go back and swim that race again, I would love to," he said. "And no, that doesn't mean I'm coming back. Don't get any ideas."
Despite losing to le Clos in the 200 fly, a race Phelps hadn't lost at a major international competition since 2000, and failing to reach the podium in the 400 IM, Phelps said he had no regrets about his decision to compete in London and will look back on his four-gold, two-silver performance with positive memories.
"Yeah, I didn't have as many medals as '08, but the last four years I prepared how I wanted to. That was my decision," Phelps said. "I'm happy with that. I'm proud. It's time to move on to something else."
What that might be is anyone's guess. Phelps said multiple times he plans to travel the world, including a visit to South Africa to cage dive with le Clos in search of sharks. "They're my favorite animal," he said. "I'm definitely going down there." There are also plans to play a lot of golf and try to stay in shape, unlike in 2009 when he was away from the pool and said he gained 25 pounds in six months. "I'm going to try not to do that this time around," he said.
Most of all, he wants to try to just be a little more normal. He wants to vacation, stand on a beach and not dread getting into the water because he spends his entire professional life there. And should he not get to sleep much before 2 a.m., he wants to figure out a way that his body will allow him to rest beyond 6 a.m.
He is retired, after all.
"I'm going to try and get on a different kind of schedule and not get up at 6 a.m. every morning," he said. "That's something I'm really looking forward to. I'm just very happy to be done."