- Associated Press - Sunday, August 5, 2012

LONDON — On the first day of the rest of his life, Michael Phelps found old habits are hard to break.

He popped out of bed around 6 in the morning Sunday, as if it were another normal training session.

“I wish I could sleep a little longer,” Phelps said. “I’ve been used to getting up early the last 20 years. We’re going to work on getting on a little different schedule.”

Phelps can start sleeping later now. Heck, he can do whatever he wants. At 27, he ended his swimming career in London as the most decorated Olympian ever with 18 golds — twice as many as anyone else — and 22 medals overall. The only thing left to do is sign the retirement papers, which will remove him from the list of athletes who must undergo regular doping tests.

“I have not officially retired yet,” Phelps told the Associated Press, “but very soon I will be signing those papers and it will be official.”

Phelps isn’t sure what he’ll do next. There will definitely be plenty of traveling. Only this time he’ll see more than just the bottom of pools and the inside of hotel rooms. He wants to work on his golf game — “the proper way, not just going out there taking a couple of hacks at a little white ball.” He might even take a trip to the beach, which was something he never wanted to do when he was swimming competitively.

“If I go swimming any place, it will probably be in the ocean,” Phelps said. “I will actually enjoy getting in the water at the beach. I’ve been on a couple of vacations before, but I never wanted to get around water because I spent so much time in the water. Hopefully, I can jump in now and actually enjoy it, just splashing around with my friends.”

For the most part, though, his plans are a work in progress.

He’s been so focused on his swimming, on making a splash at his final Olympics, that he clearly hasn’t taken much time to figure out what he wants to do next. He just knows he doesn’t want to swim, not competitively anyway.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” Phelps said. “I’m just going to take it one step at a time, one day at a time. If I want to do something, I’m just going to do it.”

He was asked about a do-over as host of “Saturday Night Live.” Back in 2008, Phelps made a rather stilted appearance on the show.

“Hopefully, I wouldn’t be as nervous as I was last time. I remember walking out on the stage for that very first scene and thinking, ‘Wow, if I mess up, everybody’s going to see it.’”

For now, he’s mainly focused on getting some down time. He’s been swimming competitively for about two decades, and he’s been at the top of the sport for nearly a dozen years. There are so many things he passed up so he could focus on swimming, and though there are no regrets, there’s a lot of catching up to do.

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