Only Michael Phelps could proclaim he was "terrible" on a night in which he won two national championships and broke the all-time record for most national titles in a career.
The 14-time gold medalist won the 200 freestyle and 200 butterfly, his 48th and 49th national titles, on Wednesday night at the U.S. swimming championships, but said he "felt absolutely awful" in the water. "I'm going to have to be in a lot better shape," he said. "I know what I need to do to change."
It was the first major meet for Phelps since the 2009 world championships and his rustiness showed. His won the 200 butterfly in 1:56.00, nearly 4 1/2 seconds slower than the world record he set last year in Rome. It was an uncharacteristically sloppy race for Phelps, who jammed his second turn and was late getting off the starting blocks. The time was still good enough to outpace the second-place finisher by over one second, but that seemed irrelevant to the most decorated swimmer ever.
"The bottom line is that I'm not in shape and it shows," he said. "It was probably the worst 200 fly of my life. That's not even a top five time in the world, and in my eyes [that's unacceptable]."
His performance in the 200 free was a bit better. In that race, which preceded the fly by about an hour, Phelps held off six-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte and swam the fastest time in the world this year. His time of 1:45.61 was three seconds off his personal best though.
To be fair, this meet is of relatively low importance to Phelps. It's a qualifier for the lone major international competition of the year, the Pan Pacific Championships, which will be held in Irvine, Calif., later this month. Even that won't be a big deal for Phelps. This is an off-year with no world championships or Olympics and Phelps isn't training seriously. The two events that matter are in 2011 and 2012. Until he starts training for those, he might want to get used to being frustrated with his times.