Where Did Michael Phelps Go? (I Don’t Care)

Michael Phelps was “so honored” to be voted by his fellow U.S. Olympians as the athlete to carry in the American flag to the Opening Ceremony.

This was the new, more mature Michael Phelps, not so focused on racking up those swimming gold medals that he couldn’t be bothered to take part in Opening Ceremonies.

So how does the USA’s greatest Olympian respond to the honor of a lifetime? By cutting out of the stadium soon after fulfilling his duty of carrying the flag.

That’s right, “duty.” That’s what Phelps’ leaving screams to me. Like he’s thinking: “I did my duty, now let me get the heck out of here if you want me to maintain my strength and continue to make America proud by lapping up some more medals.”

Oh, sure, this was discussed ahead of time. To be fair, some athletes do have events the day following the Opening Ceremony, a four-hour+, on-your-feet-the-whole-time marathon event. (Although Phelps does not. He competes Sunday.) Some athletes do have to make the choice of staying up late leading into a day they’ve trained their entire life for… Even USA gymnast Simone Biles opted to miss out on this one (her first time at the Olympics—although her first event is Sunday as well). It’s not unprecedented that Phelps cut.

But if it’s really such an honor, as Phelps claimed it was, then I wonder: Don’t you owe it to those athletes who voted for you, to the country you represent, to stick around with everyone and truly be an Olympian in body as well as spirit?

Apparently not.

Phelps was voted as flag bearer despite some activity away from the pool that has been less than heroic. Retiring and un-retiring a couple of times. Charged with driving under the influence. (And despite others urging him to let the runner-up, Muslim American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, carry the flag in his place.)

He continues to be popular with his fellow Americans, who choose to overlook the past in recognizing in all likelihood this is Phelps’ last hurrah. (Although he has allowed talk of an appearance in 2020 to simmer.)

How cool would it have been for Phelps to hang around and soak it all in, which was the impression he left at the news conference before the parade of nations.

So kudos to Phelps for hanging in there long enough to carry the flag of the country he says is an honor to represent. Now go out there and make yourself proud in the pool. Just don’t expect all of us to be as proud.

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