With his chance for a last burst of Games glory at Rio just months away, Michael Phelps says he’s finally come to appreciate what he’s accomplished in an already extraordinary Olympic career.

It’s not something he really had time to do when he was amassing 22 Olympic swimming medals. Eighteen of them are gold — eight of those won in one glittering campaign at the 2008 Beijing Games.

“Throughout my whole career, I literally went from one meet to another, from one event to the next, one medal to the next, one record to the next record,” Phelps said.

“A lot of it was a blur. We were always looking for the next thing.”

But during his recent move from Baltimore to Arizona, he took a good look at all those medals, and remembered just how he felt after he’d won them.

“That was the first time I’d ever done it, that those things ever sunk in,” Phelps said. “For the first time I was able to look back at my career and be really excited and be proud of what I’ve done.”

Phelps’s life is still hectic. He is attacking an array of responsibilities in and out of the pool with gusto that he admits was lacking in his build-up to the 2012 Olympics.

His fiancee, Nicole Johnson, is expecting their first child in May, and the couple are planning their wedding.

Meanwhile he is committed to a rigorous training programme that nowadays is balanced by strict attention to diet and recovery techniques aimed at keeping his 30-year-old body in tune.

The intense regimen is the subject of a new, atmospheric commercial for sportswear maker Under Armour, and Phelps was back in his hometown of Baltimore on Tuesday morning to promote the brand before flying across the country to speak to reporters at the US Olympic Committee’s pre-Rio Media Summit in Los Angeles on Tuesday night.

It was a long day, but Phelps said that after the depths of his 2014 drunk driving arrest followed by treatment that helped him exorcise old demons he’s grateful to be where he is.

“I’m just living a sort of freer, happier life now,” Phelps said..

Physically, he said, he has benefitted from giving up alcohol.

As for his prospects in Rio — four years after he walked away from the London competition pool swearing he wouldn’t return — Phelps said things are coming along.

At a meet in Orlando last week he was dissatisfied with his 100m butterfly finish — despite a win — and felt that his freestyle had “no speed”.

“It’s good for me to have races where things don’t go perfect,” Phelps said. “It makes me hungry to get back into training and fix those little small, tiny things that end up either winning you a gold medal or losing you a gold medal.” – Agence France-Presse

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