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Michael Phelps Attempts To Make 5th Consecutive Olympic Team


The Olympics are approaching the Summer Games, which means we are in the season of qualifying. The U.S. Olympic swim trials are underway right now in Omaha. And among the hopefuls is one very familiar name and face. Here's commentator Christine Brennan.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: This is the summer of Michael Phelps. There's nothing new about that in an Olympic year. It happened in 2004, 2008, 2012. Now here we are again. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, turns 31 tomorrow. And he is trying to make his fifth consecutive Olympic team this week at the U.S. swimming trials in Omaha. It's a story of athletic triumph, certainly. It's a story of longevity, most definitely. It's also an important cautionary tale.

Since most of us last saw Phelps four years ago in London, where he won four gold medals following his record eight in Beijing, Phelps says he has settled down. He's engaged. He's become a father.

He says he has rekindled his love for his sport. He has rededicated himself to the grueling practices and simple lifestyle for which his sport is known - all this in an attempt to make the U.S. team in Rio in three individual events, including his specialty, the butterfly, and perhaps a relay or two.

Since we last saw Phelps, he also was arrested again. Early on one September morning in 2014 in his hometown of Baltimore, he was pulled over by police. He'd been speeding - driving over 80 miles per hour with a blood alcohol level almost double the legal limit. He later pleaded guilty to a drunk driving charge, and he was suspended by USA Swimming for six months. A decade earlier, after the Athens Olympics, Phelps also pleaded guilty to driving while impaired.

And after the Beijing Olympics, he was suspended three months by USA Swimming after a photo of him taking a hit from a marijuana pipe went viral - three incidents in one decade for a man who has made millions promoting himself as a role model for children.

What happened after that last and worst incident in Baltimore leads us directly to this week. Phelps and those closest to him sensed that this time, there had to be more than the requisite apologies - apologies that were quickly accepted by a sports nation unwilling to fall out of love with one of its heroes. Phelps checked himself into a treatment facility in Arizona.

The man who has won 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold, said he had never felt more afraid. In the weeks that followed and the months since, he says he has stopped drinking. The results have been positively Beijing-esque (ph). He is swimming as fast in some of his events as he did then. He says he feels as good as he did then. But there are no guarantees at the U.S. trials. It's a swim meet that is stronger and deeper than the actual Olympic Games.

Swimmers more than a decade younger than Phelps will fight him for one of just two spots in each of his races. Almost 2,000 swimmers have qualified for Omaha. Only 52 make it to Rio. Phelps is the biggest name of them all. He's been around so long, we've always thought we've known him. Maybe finally, we do.


INSKEEP: Christine Brennan is a sports columnist for USA Today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.