Michael Phelps' comeback took another step forward Monday with the announcement that he plans to swim in the Arena Grand Prix at Mesa, Ariz., on April 24-26.
It will be Phelps' first competition since retiring after the London Olympics in 2012. At that time, Phelps was adamant that he would not come back and attempt to compete in a fifth Olympics, but last November it was reported that he re-entered the U.S. Anti-Doping Association drug-testing pool – a precursor to competing in national meets. He has resumed training with his longtime coach, Bob Bowman, at North Baltimore Aquatic Center.
Bowman told Yahoo Sports on Monday that the most decorated Olympian of all-time is entered in three events in the meet: the 100-meter butterfly, 100 freestyle and 50 free, although Phelps probably will swim butterfly in the 50 free. (A swimmer can do any stroke in a freestyle event.) He downplayed the significance of any results at the meet.
"He's ready to be in a meet," Bowman said. "We'll see how it goes. Neither of us have any expectations, but I think he's looking forward to being in a meet."
Bowman said the 28-year-old Phelps has been in the pool on a regular basis, but not in a hardcore training sense.
"He's training really consistently five times a week," he said. "That's maybe half what he's done before."
Bowman said the important element of Phelps' current training regimen is that he is doing it willingly and enthusiastically. That's a departure from the years in between Phelps' masterpiece, eight-gold-medal performance in Beijing in 2008 and the four-gold, two-silver effort in London. Bowman and Phelps clashed frequently during what was a crisis of commitment for the greatest swimmer ever, a winner of 22 Olympic medals.
"His training attitude has been great," Bowman said. "It's been nice to have him coming in and excited about training every day."
Bowman said Phelps also has been entered in Grand Prix meets in Charlotte, N.C., (May 15-18) and Santa Clara, Calif., (June 19-22), with a stint of high-altitude training in Colorado Springs, Colo., scheduled in between. But the coach and swimmer will take stock of the summer schedule after this first meet before making any firm decisions about what is next.
With more than two years until the U.S. Olympic Trials that will select the team for Rio de Janeiro in 2016, there is ample time for Phelps to ramp up his training and decide which events he'd like to focus on. He is expected to significantly downsize his workload this time around after the exhausting programs of the previous three Games.
Phelps is the biggest name at the Mesa Grand Prix, but hardly the only big one. Fellow American male star Ryan Lochte is entered, as is current distance freestyle queen Katy Ledecky. Several other Olympic gold medalists are entered as well, among them: Matt Grevers, Nathan Adrian, Tyler Clary, Natalie Coughlin and Allison Schmitt.
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