One of the focal points in the Olympics this summer will be swimmer Michael Phelps. Another swimmer, whose first name is Michael and lives outside Lawrence, Kansas, narrowly missed out on the Olympics this year. He’s 17, and big things are predicted of him despite an unconventional training path.
So big that ESPN The Magazine claims that the family of Michael Andrew says he can become this generation’s Michael Phelps. Andrew’s parents don’t recall saying that.
Regardless, Andrew became one of the most talked about swimmers who failed to make the Olympics.
‘I don’t want to be another Michael Phelps’
Michael Andrew turned professional when he was 14, the youngest swimmer ever to do so in the U.S.
Earlier this summer in Omaha, Andrew stood on the starting block at the Olympic trials with the USA’s best. Three lanes over in a 50-meter freestyle semi stood two-time Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones. Andrew had trained for this moment.
He didn’t make it to the final, coming in sixth in his heat.
Andrew competed in five individual events at the Olympic trials. He came closest to earning a place on the USA Olympic team in the 100-meter breaststroke. His fourth place finish was only two places from where he needed to qualify.
Whether or not his parents compared him to Michael Phelps, Andrew says he has heard the chatter that’s still ongoing in the swimming community.
“To compared to the greatest of all time is incredible. What he’s done in this sport is amazing,” says Andrew. “To live up to that’s cool, but I don’t want to be another Michael Phelps because there’s things he’s done that I don’t want to live out and there’s things that I want to do differently. So I want to be the first Michael Andrew.”
A family affair
Peter Andrew, Michael’s father, trains him at an indoor, two-lane pool built in their backyard, a rural area west of Lawrence. Peter and his wife, Tina, are from South Africa. Tina is Michael’s manager, or the “mama-ger” as she calls herself, and home schools Michael and his younger sister.
Even though Peter was a former competitive swimmer in South Africa, their son was active in other sports. It wasn’t unusual for Michael to go to sleep holding a soccer ball. Then when Michael signed up for a local swim team in Aberdeen, S.D, where they lived at the time, Peter was mesmerized by what he saw.
Tina remembers it vividly.
“The first day that Peter went to pick him up from his first practice, he called me from the practice and he says, ‘Drop whatever you’re doing and come and watch this,’” says Tina Andrew.
Because Michael Andrew’s first swim meet took place in a chilly rain at an outdoor pool in Brookings, S.D., Tina says he cried. He didn’t want to do it. But all that changed after his first race and started an unusual path to success.
Michael doesn’t belong to any swimming club or team. And his father’s training regimen is highly debated in the swimming ranks.
“By the time I was 10, we were swimming and competing pretty regularly traveling across the country and going to meets,” says Andrew. “That’s when I broke my first age group record.”
Michael says he’s a professional swimmer because it’s something he wants to do. “I think with the sport and everything, how our family did everything together, I want to make it to the Olympics,” says Andrew. “I want to be a professional swimmer and I want to keep going with this.”
Because of how much the Andrew family is involved with the business of swimming, Michael Andrew says there’s a misconception. “A lot of people have called me the ‘bubble boy.’ I’m only taken out of the bubble to train, to swim or to compete,” says Andrew.
Michael is quick to point out that he believes his parents have not robbed him of his childhood. “No, not robbed at all. I think more lifted me up to toward a more exciting childhood. It’s fair to say that the 17-year-old me is very different to a lot of 17-year-olds around there.”
The family accepted endorsement money from a protein company three years ago, making Andrew ineligible to compete on the high school and NCAA level.
Tina Andrew says as a very faith-based family the decision to make their son a pro didn’t occur on a whim. “This is a family discussion all the time, very much with Michael being given the option to choose, then we encourage and pray about it,” says Tina Andrew. “That’s how we made our decisions.”
So while the world watches the upcoming Olympic races, the Andrew family has its own itinerary set for competition. Later this month, the family will depart for Paris for the start of nine stops on the professional swimming circuit in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Though Michael Andrew didn’t make the Olympic team this time around, the plan is already in motion for him to be well-prepared by the time the 2020 Olympic trials roll around.
Greg Echlin is a sports reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter, @GregEchlin.