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Michael Phelps gives IOC faint praise for delaying Tokyo: 'Frustrating it took this long'

The world’s most dominant-ever Olympic athlete is relieved that the Tokyo games have been postponed.

He’s also wondering why the decision didn’t arrive sooner.

Michael Phelps spoke with the Associated Press on Tuesday about the news that this summer’s games have been shelved because of the coronavirus pandemic. The 23-time Olympic gold medalist who’s struggled with anxiety and depression is concerned for the mental health of athletes whose lives have been upended.

‘Frustrating it took this long’

But mostly he’s glad that life-saving measures have been taken.

“Honestly, my first thought was I was relieved,” Phelps told AP. “Now, there's more of a chance that we can beat this thing and do what we need to do to save as many lives as possible. I was happy to see them logically making a smart decision.

“It's just frustrating it took this long.”

Phelps concerned about mental health of athletes

Since retiring from Olympic competition after the 2016 Rio Games, Phelps has opened up about his own mental health struggles that have included thoughts of suicide. He’s advocated for therapy and has worked as a spokesman for an online therapy company.

Michael Phelps. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

He gave voice to how jarring an emotional disruption the Tokyo postponement is for athletes who have focused their lives for four years or longer on the 2020 games.

“As athletes, we're so regimented” Phelps said. “At this point, all the work is done. We're just fine tuning the small things to get to this point. Now it's like, ‘Oh ... we’re not competing.’

“All these emotions start flaring up. I really think mental health is so important right now.”

Athletes cut off from training facilities

Orders to remain at home and the shuttering of training facilities adds an additional layer of stress for athletes who still have their sights set on competing in Tokyo if and when the games are eventually held.

[ Coronavirus: How the sports world is responding to the pandemic ]

Five-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Katie Ledecky couldn’t find a pool last week as COVID-19 precautions ramped up in California. Her coach Greg Meehan described the scene to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg.

“It has been chaos,” Meehan said. “We exhausted every other possibility we could think of — private pools, community pools, asking other universities to open their doors to us. Every time we thought we had something it would end up getting canceled later that day or the next morning.” 

With the pandemic continuing to amplify in the United States, training concerns like Ledecky’s aren’t going to be resolved anytime soon.

Phelps has offered to lend his ear to athletes who are having a hard time. As a top-level athlete and a person who’s dealt directly with mental health challenges, he has perspective.

“This is such a big time for mental health. It's more important now than it ever was before. I hope everybody is taking care of themselves mentally and physically at this time. I'm always available and open at any hour to anybody who needs help.”

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