The first night the women’s 400 IM final featured another of Phelps’ mentor, Hallie Flickinger, who didn’t need any tough love given to Kalisz. She was her own worst adversary, she admitted, sabotaging her success with negative self-talk. Flickinger moved to Tempe, Ariz., to train with Phelps’ longtime coach Bob Bowman after the 2019 World Championships. She earned a silver medal in the 200 butterfly, hanging like a wooden nickel around her neck, as she lost the gold along the way, swimming in a terrifying race and being passed in the final meter by Boglarka Kapas of Hungary. I went.
Flickinger lived with Phelps, his wife, Nicole, and their three young sons until their husband joined them from Georgia. After several afternoon exercises, she would keep Phelps company in the kitchen as he prepared dinner and talked about his racing mind.
“When I moved to Arizona, I had a lot to figure out mentally,” Flickinger said.
A conversation stuck in his mind. He asked Phelps what he thought when he stepped on the block. He told him that he had won for the races because they were the reward for all his hard work. He enjoyed swimming the most and the bigger the stage, the more he enjoyed it. His embrace of the moment, he said, came from his enthusiasm to redeem all the work he had deposited in the bank.
His reaction flipped a switch in Flickinger’s mind. He remembered that his thinking was just the opposite. “I was scared of running,” she said. “It just took me years to think the wrong way and worry about things I can’t control.”
As 2019 turns into 2020, Flickinger continues to chat with Phelps about the process and the positivity. At the same time, Phelps was hearing from Bowman about Flickinger’s ability to work. He set up a butterfly and punished IM workouts that boggled his mind. When he told her that he couldn’t imagine some of the things she was managing to do in practice, Flickinger was incredulous.
“I would walk away from those sets at times disappointed, not realizing what I had done,” said Flickinger, who described himself as a performer in the eyes of the greatest champion of his sport. Gained confidence in the look.