Michael Phelps Returns for One Last Swim in Under Armour’s Haunting New Ad

Bearded champion preps for Rio

Headshot of Tim Nudd

Michael Phelps has been an Under Armour endorser since 2010, but of course, he's only truly in the spotlight quadrennially, during the Olympics. Now 30 years old, the world's greatest-ever swimmer is making one final Olympic push—for the Rio Games this August. 

Under Armour is celebrating its hero's last stand with a beautiful and brooding ad from Droga5 that focuses on Phelps's intense training regimen—in other words, everything he's been doing while outside the spotlight to prepare for those precious moments in the pool.

The most decorated Olympian of all time—with 22 medals in three Olympics, including 18 golds—Phelps certainly looks the part of the aging veteran in the new ad, even sporting a bushy beard (that has to slow him down a few milliseconds in the water, no?). But he's clearly not giving his post-30 body a break.

The ad, part of Under Armour's ongoing "Rule Yourself" campaign, shows Phelps swimming with resistance, lifting weights, carb-loading, taking ice baths, getting barked at by his coach, having restless sleep, and generally looking both determined and haunted by the task ahead of him. (He even undergoes something called "cupping therapy," which looks painful and frankly kind of medieval.)

The soundtrack is "The Last Goodbye" by the Kills.

The training shots are mixed with more elegiac imagery. Phelps is seen looking into a backyard pool strewn with leaves, clearly taking stock of a long journey about to come to an end. Another, recurring shot shows him hurtling down a glowing swim lane that's surrounded on both sides by darkness—an impressively moving nod to his brutal, solitary hours of training. 

"It's what you do in the dark that puts you in the light," says an onscreen line at the end.

The new spot will be introduced Tuesday at an Under Armour event in Baltimore—which is both Phelps' hometown and home to the sports brand's global headquarters. (We'll have more from that event later today.) It follows several other recent spots in the campaign, including one with the United States women's gymnastic team.

As a bit of bonus footage, Under Armour filmed Phelps and his fiancée, Nicole Johnson, watching the spot for the first time. Check out that footage below. 

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.