26 Apr 2014

Signs all encouraging for Phelps

12:25 pm on 26 April 2014

American Olympic great Michael Phelps was true to his word and swam the butterfly in 50 metre freestyle heats in his second and last event on his comeback to the sport in Arizona.

That effectively killed any chance Phelps had of making the final against competitors swimming the faster front crawl, but he's qualified for the national championships in California in August.

On the opening day, Phelps lost the 100 butterfly final, pipped to the wall by longstanding rival Ryan Lochte, a five-time Olympic gold medallist who beat Phelps to win the 400 individual medley at London 2012.

Lochte touched the wall first in 51.93 seconds with Phelps just behind in 52.13. Phelps was fastest qualifier in the heats, but was always going to be up against it in the final, racing for the first time since he retired after London with a staggering career total of 18 gold medals.

The championships double as the US selection trials for next year's world titles and will be the next big clue to where Phelps' comeback is heading.

While only time will tell whether he will stick with his comeback and swim at the 2016 Rio Olympics and possibly add to his mind-boggling collection of 18 gold medals, for now, the signs are all good.

The 28-year-old deliberately chose a relatively low key meet in suburban Phoenix for his return and competed in just two events but there were enough signs to show he can do it if he wants to.

He says he was very excited and felt like a kid again and that was the coolest thing about it.

Phelps and his coach insist they have not hatched any long term plans.

Phelps will swim again at another USA Grand Prix meet in North Carolina next month before heading to Colorado for intense high-altitude training.

He's set to swim less races and shorter events, and has sworn he will never again race the gruelling 400 metres individual medley, which he won at Athens and Beijing but lost in London.

Gregg Troy, who was the head coach of the men's team at London, says Phelps is the best and is capable of doing anything he decides he wants to do.

Troy says Phelps is actually at the prime age for males and isn't over the hill by any means.

Phelps was welcomed back to the swimming fold like a long lost brother. Tickets for the event sold out within hours and there were five times more media in attendance than for the corresponding meet last year.

A television station sent a helicopter to hover over the pool just to catch a shot of Phelps in practice.