It seems impossible that Bob Bowman has never before been the head coach of the United States Olympic swim team.
How could the coach of the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time (Baltimore's Michael Phelps) have been no more than an assistant during the last three Olympiads? Were the folks at USA Swimming afraid they might ... win too much?
"I don't know. I kind of think they felt like, you know, me having Michael there was like a full-time job in itself, so maybe I wouldn't be able to coach the other people," Bowman said May 25 on
Glenn Clark Radio
Bowman is still coaching Phelps, who is set to compete in his fifth and final (final?) Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. This time he will also be the head coach of the rest of the men's team for the first time in his career. The significance of the opportunity is not lost on the two-time former head coach of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.
"It's just amazing," Bowman said. "It doesn't get any better. When you can represent the U.S.A. and you can lead our team; the U.S. swim team, statistically the most successful sports team in history if you look at the medals that they've won over time. It's an incredible honor and a responsibility, and I really look forward to it."
The South Carolina native has a lifetime's worth of coaching accomplishments already under his belt as he takes on this task for the first time. In fact, 2016 has already seen him publish his first book ("The Golden Rules") and receive induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. While he has left Baltimore for Arizona (he's currently serving as the head swim coach at Arizona State in addition to his Olympic responsibilities), he's taken plenty of Baltimore with him. In addition to Phelps, local swimmers Chase Kalisz, Austin Surhoff and others moved to Tempe, Ariz., to continue training with Bowman.
"Even though I'm not there all the time, my heart will always be in Baltimore," Bowman said.
It's the relationship with Phelps, the one forged roughly two decades ago, that remains most fascinating as Bowman makes another shift in his career. Fascinating because it comes at a time where Phelps is making a far more dramatic shift. Not only is the 18-time gold medalist "100 percent" committed to retiring after the Rio Games, but for the first time in his career, he will compete as a father.
Born May 5, Boomer Phelps is Michael's first child with fiancée Nicole Johnson. The child's name is actually a reminder of the bond shared between Bowman and his protégé but also serves to explain how Phelps' foray into fatherhood has been just as meaningful for his coach.
"It is an amazing experience, actually, and probably one of the best that we've had, if not the best", Bowman said. "To see [Phelps] kind of grow into a man, start his own family; to actually be part of that family ... you know Boomer's middle name is "Robert?" So it's kind of an amazing honor for me when I found that out right after he was born, so it's really been fulfilling [on] so many levels."
Equally fulfilling for Bowman? The fact that preparing for the Olympics this time has been so much more pleasant than in 2012. There were famous stories about how Phelps simply got bored with the sport after his historic eight gold medal performance in 2008. Bowman has spoken publicly about that year's Olympic performance (six golds, two silvers) being more relief than joy for the Phelps' camp.
This year things have changed.
"I think that this time it's been so much different because he truly is back in love with swimming," Bowman said. "He's doing it for all the right reasons. He's incredibly healthy mentally and physically, and it's really been much more of a joy than it was getting ready for London. You know, some of the early [meets] it was kind of that way, and it's really nice to see him kind of get back to a real love of swimming and a love of the sport."
Bowman did not intend to make a career out of coaching swimming. Now he's the head coach of the U.S. Olympic swim team. He knows well how much his life changed just by crossing paths with a lanky 11-year-old in 1996.
"No doubt about it," Bowman said. "I mean, it's a true partnership in every, you know, meaning of that word. And I'm incredibly appreciative [of] the opportunities that Michael has given me, because he has opened doors that never would have been there."
For more from Bowman, listen to the full interview here: