Skip to content

Michael Phelps still fueled to win going into second comeback meet

May 15, 2014, 6:37 PM EST

Michael Phelps Getty Images

Michael Phelps said he felt like a kid in April, when he swam in his first meet since the 2012 Olympics and uttered the word “fun” repeatedly in interviews.

Phelps, a man with 18 Olympic gold medals and 26 World Championships, won zero events at the Mesa Grand Prix last month, essentially dipping his toes back into competitive waters with a shallow one-and-a-half-event program.

Phelps’ second comeback meet is the Charlotte Grand Prix, where he swims two events, both Friday. He was questioned on Thursday if his competitive fire is still there, 21 months since he last stood atop a podium.

“I don’t want anybody to beat me,” Phelps said. “Nobody.”

In Mesa, Phelps took second to Ryan Lochte in the 100m butterfly and then swam the butterfly stroke in a 50m freestyle preliminary race, where he finished seventh and didn’t make the evening finals.

It’ll be a slightly heavier load in Charlotte. Phelps plans to swim the 100m butterfly again but this time pair it with the 200m free in the same preliminary session.

“I guess now I’m moving up to the big leagues,” said Phelps, dripping with hyperbole. He isn’t sure he will swim both finals Friday night.

Lochte isn’t swimming in Charlotte, but Phelps’ penchant for winning will be tested in the 200m free by the gold and silver medalists from last year’s World Championships. They happen to be his training partners in Baltimore — Yannick Agnel and Conor Dwyer.

“I really started feeling better freestyle-wise in workouts over the last week or so, so it will be interesting to see how this 200 goes,” Phelps said. “It will be fun to hop in and really race these guys in their best events. The biggest thing is to just to see what kind of shape I’m.”

Charlotte Grand Prix preview, schedule

Remember, Phelps showed up to last year’s World Championships as a spectator in a walking boot. He gained 30 pounds in retirement but has shed most or all of it since returning to training last year, at the approval of his longtime coach, Bob Bowman.

“The reason that I guess I sanctioned this activity, whatever it is, I don’t know what you want to call it, is because he’s doing it the right way and for the right reasons,” said Bowman, who often sits or stands next to Phelps in interviews, as he did Thursday. “When he comes in the door, he’s got a smile on his face. I don’t have to force him to do anything. So as long as it continues like that, I think we’re good, because that’s the only reason he should do it. If he loves to swim and he wants to do it, I always said Mozart should make music as long as he wants to make music. He shouldn’t have to retire just because he’s 30 or some age, but by the same token it should be good music.”

Last year, Phelps communicated his desire to return to swimming in typical 18th-century composer fashion — by text message to Bowman. He said he had interest in going to a training camp at altitude in Colorado Springs, the kind of grueling trip Phelps wasn’t exactly enamored with over his four Olympics.

That perplexed Bowman, a man with a university degree in developmental psychology and a minor in music composition.

“Since he has kicked and screamed going to Colorado for the last decade, I’m not really sure why he wanted to do that,” Bowman said. “So that’s kind of how it started.”

They had a serious talk last August, laying out the conditions, and the coach/swimmer relationship, once fraught with hassle, is now more easygoing.

“We’re not quite so … ” Bowman began, searching for an adjective. ” … urgent.”

If training isn’t perfect, Bowman doesn’t lose sleep over it like he did for 16 years during Phelps’ ascent from the rankling little brother of a 1996 Olympic hopeful to the most decorated Olympian of all time.

But at some point the pressure will rise, if Phelps wants to go to his fifth Olympics and win more gold medals in Rio (to which he hasn’t yet committed).

“We’ve got to balance that [competitive fire] with the amount of work we want to put in to swim whatever program might end up being,” Bowman said.

That line perked Phelps up, sitting next to Bowman at a table in Charlotte.

“There goes the word, ‘program,’ start it now,” Phelps said, drawing laughs, of the term Bowman has long used for Phelps’ outline of swimming six, seven and eight events at major international meets.

“We’re going to find out a little bit more about the program tomorrow, and then we’ll know more,” Bowman said.

That drew an inevitable, jocular, follow-up question.

What is the program for Rio?

“There is no program for Rio,” Bowman said. “There’s just a program for Charlotte.”

The Phelps-Bowman back-and-forth continued when Phelps said swimming now is “a lot funner than golf.”

“You guys are writing that down?” Bowman told reporters.

Phelps, a poker nut, also went all-in on golf during his retirement, playing in European celebrity events (including sinking a 51-yard putt in St. Andrews, Scotland) and learning from Hank Haney in a Golf Channel series.

“It was all downhill after that putt, right?” Bowman joked.

“I actually should have just retired from the sport after that,” Phelps said.

But he hasn’t. Phelps lamented that he still hasn’t broken 85, though he did shoot 43 for nine holes recently and worked more with Haney in Cabo earlier this month. He has goals left in the sport, just as he does in swimming.

“I’d still like to get down to a scratch golfer,” Phelps said. “I have learned, just like anything else that you do, you have to play a lot. You have to play every day.”

Katie Ledecky makes college choice

Latest Posts
  1. Boston Marathon finish line shoveled by Ironman triathlete

    Jan 28, 2015, 3:23 PM EST

    Boston Marathon finish line shoveled

    “I only did it to send a message,” shoveler said.

  2. K.C. Boutiette returns to World Cup speed skating for first time since 2006

    Jan 28, 2015, 2:02 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    An Olympic legend helped convince him to come back, possibly for the 2018 Olympics.

  3. Tori Bowie ‘going after medals’ after breakthrough season

    Jan 27, 2015, 4:14 PM EST

    Tori Bowie Getty Images

    Bowie may try to make the World Championships team in three individual events.

  4. Yohan Blake details ‘dreams’ for 2015

    Jan 27, 2015, 2:37 PM EST

    Yohan Blake Getty Images

    Once Usain Bolt’s top rival, the Jamaican is returning from a second major injury in as many years.

  5. Lance Armstrong on forgiveness: ‘We’re getting close to that time’

    Jan 26, 2015, 2:41 PM EST

    AP AP

    Armstrong touched on many topics in a BBC interview.

  6. Martina Hingis eyes Rio Olympics

    Jan 26, 2015, 10:58 AM EST

    Martina Hingis Getty Images

    Could Hingis return to Olympic tennis, 20 years after her only Olympic appearance?

  7. South Korean Olympic swim champ Park Tae-hwan fails drug test

    Jan 26, 2015, 8:41 AM EST

    Park Tae-hwan Getty Images

    Park’s management agency cited “an illegal injection administered by a local doctor.”

  8. Jason Brown wins first U.S. figure skating title

    Jan 25, 2015, 9:48 PM EST

    AP AP

    Brown is the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 2004.

  9. Sage Kotsenburg, Jamie Anderson beaten in Winter X Games slopestyle

    Jan 25, 2015, 7:35 PM EST

    Sage Kotsenburg Getty Images

    Instead, past Winter X Games champions prevailed in Aspen.

  10. WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s free skate — 4 p.m. ET

    Jan 25, 2015, 3:00 PM EST

    Jason Brown Getty Images

    Jason Brown tries to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 2004.

  11. WATCH LIVE: ‘Lindsey Vonn: The Climb’ documentary — 3 p.m. ET

    Jan 25, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    Lindsey Vonn

    An inside look at the skier’s comeback from two major knee surgeries.

  12. Lindsey Vonn wins final race before World Championships (video)

    Jan 25, 2015, 7:36 AM EST

    AP AP

    Vonn captured victory No. 64 in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

  13. Ashley Wagner shatters records for third U.S. figure skating title

    Jan 24, 2015, 11:50 PM EST

    Ashley Wagner Getty Images

    Wagner becomes the oldest women’s champion since Michelle Kwan.

  14. Chloe Kim wins Winter X Games halfpipe at age 14

    Jan 24, 2015, 9:15 PM EST

    Chloe Kim Getty Images

    Kim outdueled the greatest snowboarder of all time.

  15. WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships — 8 p.m. ET

    Jan 24, 2015, 7:00 PM EST

    AP AP

    Gracie Gold wants to deny history for Ashley Wagner.

  16. WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships — 3 p.m. ET

    Jan 24, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    Maia Shibutani, Alex Shibutani Getty Images

    Pairs free skate and free dance national titles to be awarded.

  17. Lindsey Vonn struggles in St. Moritz downhill (video)

    Jan 24, 2015, 6:23 AM EST

    AP AP

    Vonn missed an opportunity to all but clinch the World Cup season downhill title.

  18. Jason Brown leads U.S. short program; quad debate stoked

    Jan 23, 2015, 11:58 PM EST

    Jason Brown

    Brown is poised to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion in 11 years.

  19. Lindsey Jacobellis wins ninth Winter X Games title

    Jan 23, 2015, 3:12 PM EST

    Lindsey Jacobellis Getty Images

    Jacobellis has now won 13 gold medals in 18 major championships.

  20. McKayla Maroney, Meb Keflezighi get Topps baseball cards

    Jan 23, 2015, 9:54 AM EST

    McKayla Maroney

    Olympic medalists threw out ceremonial first pitches last season.