Michael Phelps advises Katie Ledecky to have fun at Tokyo 2020

The 23-time Olympic gold medallist believes his fellow swimming star Ledecky must "go on autopilot", and reveals some of the tools he used to stay mentally sharp before races.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Michael Phelps believes the key to Katie Ledecky’s success at Tokyo 2020 is to enjoy the experience.

Freestyle swimming queen Ledecky has been the subject of an intense media spotlight in the run up to the Olympics. And the first final of her uniquely congested schedule is a much-anticipated 400 free rematch with Australia’s Ariarne Titmus.

But 23-time Olympic gold medallist Phelps isn’t worried about his former USA team-mate who is seeking to add to her five Olympic titles in Tokyo. He believes that her previous success on the biggest stage means she won’t be overawed by the occasion.

“Katie and I have known each other for a long time,” he said in a Panasonic Instagram live interview. “She is hands down the best female swimmer that we’ve ever seen.

“I always say one thing for her is just be her. As long as she’s being herself and preparing for what she has to do, everything else will happen how it’s supposed to.

“She’s somebody that understands what to do in this setting and she’s going to go out there and have some fun and we’re going to see a lot of fast times.”

Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky celebrate at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Enjoying the moment

It is the same advice he would have given himself ahead of his first Olympic appearance at Athens 2004.

His nerves led to several mistakes like forgetting to bring his credential pass to get to one of his finals. That distraction could have jeopardised his race, and he quickly realised that he could perform better if he enjoyed the moment more.

“You’ve done the hard work, now it’s just time to let it all show,” the 36-year-old continued. “Go out there, have some smiles, have some laughs and perform.

“From 2004 on, I feel I was almost on autopilot because the preparation was done. All I had to do was just get on blocks and race.

Racing and competing is something that we all love to do, so just try to forget all the distractions and do what you know how to do best. - Michael Phelps on enjoying the moment

Tips for mental focus

Another key tool in Phelps’ preparation was visualisation.

Before every race he would imagine every scenario, good and bad, that could possibly happen to him during the performance.

“In 2008 (Beijing Olympics), I dove in the water for the 200 fly (final) and my goggles were filled up with water the whole entire race,” he said. “At that point I reverted back to what I did in training, counted my strokes, and tried to stay as calm and relaxed as I possibly could.”

The tactic worked.

Not only did Phelps stay calm enough to win the gold medal, but that victory also made him the most successful Olympian of all time.

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