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What Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps Has Done Since Making History at the Summer Games
After dominating Olympic swimming for nearly two decades, what is Michael Phelps up to today?
Let's be honest. "Michael Phelps" and "Summer Olympics" are permanently intertwined. You can't think of one without immediately thinking of the other. And while Michael Phelps is currently enjoying retirement, NBC Insider will never pass up the opportunity to talk about one of the most beloved athletes in Olympic history. Let's dive in.
Who is Michael Phelps?
Like what Michael Jordan did for basketball and Tiger Woods did for golf, Michael Phelps is widely credited as making the sport of swimming popular — and dare we say cool — among millions of people. And he didn't do this with a multimillion-dollar marketing machine behind him or by leveraging his social media popularity.
Michael Phelps brought swimming to the mainstream by constantly steamrolling his competition. From the age of 15, when he became the youngest male athlete to make the U.S. team in 68 years, to the age of 31, when he retired, Phelps set the high bar in swimming over and over. To this day, he remains the most decorated Olympian of all time.
For most of his fans who followed his career intensely, there was no more significant and dramatic moment than Phelps' performance in the 2008 Summer Olympics during Team USA's 4x100 men's team relay. The race itself has been suitably called the greatest race of all time — and if you haven't seen it before, you're in for a treat.
Seemingly larger than life, Michael Phelps burst onto the scene as a teenager and – defying conventional wisdom – somehow kept getting faster, stronger, and more determined as he got older. As fans well know, most Olympic athletes only have a small window to compete at the highest level.
But not Michael Phelps. He smashed through that tiny window and made it the size of an office building.
Michael Phelps' Gold Medals and Achievements
Anyone who followed the illustrious career of Michael Phelps knows that the question isn't, "What did he accomplish?" but "What didn't he accomplish?"
Michael Phelps is widely regarded as the greatest athlete to ever compete in the Olympics, and his jaw-dropping accomplishments quickly make the case. Phelps has won 28 Olympic medals, including 23 gold medals, according to Team USA. He's set 39 world records at various points in his career. For those unfamiliar with the history of the Summer Olympics, let us assure you these statistics are legendary.
Spend five minutes on YouTube searching for videos of Michael Phelps, and you'll find an endless stream of races that saw him dominate the competition. A master of the freestyle and butterfly strokes, Phelps primarily competed as a solo swimmer but also found success as a team, serving as an integral anchor in many Team USA medley events. After failing to medal as a 15-year-old in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Phelps finally broke through and became a household name in the 2004 Athens Games, collecting six gold medals and setting several world records along the way.
The rest, they say, is history. In 2008, 2012, and 2016, Michael Phelps proved time and time again that he is arguably the best swimmer in history.
Unsurprisingly, his historic Olympic success and mainstream popularity worldwide made him an easy subject for countless documentaries and television specials, including the Peacock original Michael Phelps: Medals, Memories & More, which premiered in 2021:
Although Phelps made it clear he wouldn't be competing in 2020, there were still murmurs that – even in his mid-30s – he could still compete at the highest level. In the end, though, it didn't matter. We're sure Phelps is more than happy with his 23 gold medals.
Michael Phelps' Life After the Olympics
Since his retirement from competitive swimming, Michael Phelps has given his body a much-deserved break – but that doesn't mean he stopped inspiring countless men and women worldwide.
After revealing the lifelong struggles he faced with depression and ADHD throughout his life, Phelps currently works as a mental health advocate and is frequently involved in philanthropic efforts. And aside from a few appearances here and there, he has mostly kept out of the public eye. The most decorated athlete in Olympic history is a family man these days, spending most of his free time with his wife Nicole and his four sons, Boomer, 7; Beckett, 5; Maverick, 4; and newborn Nico.
In 2018, Phelps famously shared that he was struggling to see himself thrive "in real life" outside of the Olympic swimming bubble he lived in for so long.
"For me, I obviously had to learn to live life outside of who I was in the pool, as a real person," he detailed. "It's so hard sometimes, but man, I'm loving it."
Michael Phelps' Marriage and Children
The Olympian met his wife, Nicole Johnson, while attending the 2007 ESPY Awards, where Nicole was working as an intern. They dated off and on until February 2015, when the couple confirmed their engagement. They would go on to wed in a secret ceremony in Paradise Valley, Arizona on June 13, according to ABC News.
By the time the pair tied the knot, they had already welcomed their first son, Boomer — just in time for the 3-month-old to cheer on his dad at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Rio Summer Games were Phelps' last on Team USA.
"Being able to have our first child witness my last Olympics ever, my last ever, I mean, it's just dream come true after dream come true," Phelps told ABC News.
The couple thought their family was complete after welcoming sons Beckett and Maverick, but then Nicole became pregnant with yet another boy. Though the pregnancy was a total surprise, Nicole told TODAY that their fourth is the "bonus we didn't know we needed."
As for having a house full of boys, Nicole is taking it all in stride. "I would have loved to have a daughter for Michael so he could have that father-daughter bond that I experienced growing up," Nicole reflected. "But I strongly believe you're given what you're supposed to have, and I'm really excited to have another boy."
Phelps announced the arrival of their youngest on Instagram January 23, writing, "[Nicole] and I wanna welcome Nico Michael Phelps to the world. Born on 1/16. We’re so blessed to be given a 4th child. We’re now a family of 6!"
There's no word yet on whether or not swimming is in the future for any of the Phelps children, but if any of the kids decide to take up the sport, they'll be coached by the greatest ever to do it – and the world would happily cheer them on.
To see how Team USA's swimmers fare in the 2024 Olympics in Paris, tune in to Peacock and NBC this summer.
Originally published Jan 19, 2024.