So effortlessly did Keller glide alongside life’s floor that for a very long time few folks had any inkling of his private struggles away from the pool. Within the months earlier than the 2004 Athens Olympics, for instance, Keller endured a stretch of sleeplessness and malaise that culminated in what his coach on the time, Jon Urbanchek, described as an “emotional breakdown.”
Keller rebounded to ship one of many signature moments of these Video games, holding off the Australian star Ian Thorpe over the ultimate 100 meters of their anchor legs to clinch the gold for the US within the 4×200 freestyle relay. It was his second medal of the Olympics, and the fourth of 5 he would finally declare in his adorned worldwide profession.
He later admitted it was a mistake to stay with swimming after his star flip in Greece. In a 2014 interview with NBC Sports, Keller stated he regretted that he had not retired after Athens. Round this time, he advised a distinct interviewer, he had entertained the thought of enrolling at Arizona State to check criminology. However uncertain of his path, Keller selected to stick with what he knew.
“It’s not proper, however I nonetheless in all probability maintain some bitterness towards myself principally, but in addition a bit of bit towards my sport, as a result of I let myself get too deep into it,” Keller stated on the time.
After incomes a 3rd freestyle relay medal — his second gold — on the 2008 Beijing Video games, Keller walked away for good. Having lastly earned his bachelor’s diploma, he married and began a household. As soon as once more, a minimum of outwardly, he gave the impression to be shifting ahead with ease.
However jobs in finance and gross sales didn’t pan out. His marriage fell aside, and a contentious divorce stored him from seeing his younger daughter and two sons for lengthy durations. Unemployed and homeless, he spent months living out of his Ford Fusion, he stated in an interview with U.S.A. Swimming’s web site in 2018. He stored up his fitness center membership, he stated, solely so he would have a spot to bathe.
“Nice particular person, nice soul, nice teammate,” stated Tom Malchow, a teammate of Keller’s on the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. “However he simply had a tough time discovering his place in society exterior the pool.”