Kolkata: The most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, believes he never raced against a completely clean international field. The 31-year-old American, a record 23-time Olympic gold medalist, was speaking at a Congressional sub-committee hearing on anti-doping where he made this sensational claim. “I don’t believe I’ve stood up at an international competition and the rest of the field has been clean,” said Phelps.
Phelps was giving evidence at a US House of Representatives hearing into improving anti-doping measures. The US government helps to fund the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the committee could recommend giving more money to the organisation. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt that and I know when I do stand up in the US, I know we’re all clean because we go through the same thing.” he said.
Phelps, who won five gold medals at the Rio Olympics, 2016, said he was frustrated by doping cheats, calling for a more unified testing process. “Throughout my career I have thought that some athletes were cheating and in some cases those suspicions were confirmed,” he said.
“Given all the testing I and others have been through, I have a hard time understanding this. I can’t describe how frustrating it is to see athletes break through performance barriers in unrealistic time frames knowing what I had to do to go through that. I watched how this affected my team-mates as well. Even the suspicion of doping is disillusioning for clean athletes.” added the former Olympian.
Yet the question on everyone’s mind is what took Phelps so long? For years, Phelps seemed content to pretend the controversy swirling in sports was not his problem. But with time it seems a mature Phelps finally found his voice in Rio. The sticky subject he always avoided is no longer a taboo. Phelps finally wants to take a hard stance against the issue that has been troubling the sport for many years, ‘Doping.’
Yet Phelps during his Olympic years never made it a point to really say anything. Too invested in perfecting his own game or perhaps collecting his millions in sponsorships while the sport was nearly collapsing around him. “I’ve stayed in my lane, so to say,” Phelps admitted.
What must be acknowledged though is that Phelps while racing clean has won 23 gold medals in five Olympics, a record in itself. He did it the right way, even while looking around the pool at suspected cheaters who could get in his way. That he beat them anyway almost effortlessly over the years merely adds to his stature as the greatest swimmer ever.
What wasn’t nearly so great, though, was his silence when out of the pool.
(With inputs from The Hindustan Times)