MESA, Ariz. – Michael Phelps made a successful return to competitive swimming Thursday, leading qualifiers in the 100-meter butterfly at the Arena Grand Prix.
Phelps, 28, was fastest in preliminaries at Skyline Aquatic Center in 52.84 seconds, ahead of rival Ryan Lochte in 52.94. They will duel in the final Thursday night.
Phelps got up to the blocks quickly for the 14th and final heat of the 100 butterfly because he was so excited to race again. "I felt like a summer league swimmer," he said. "I should have my heat and lane written on my hand in case I forget it. I didn't want to wait any more. I wanted to get up and get this first race done."
The winningest Olympian in any sport with 22 medals, Phelps has been away from the sport since Aug. 4, 2012 when he finished at the London Olympics.
Lochte joked with Phelps about the two of them "messing around" and ending up in the "C" final instead of the "A" final.
The olympic swimmer is ready for Rio after entering a swim meet in Mesa, Arizona for the first time since announcing his retirement from the sport. (April 15)
"I was like, 'Let's try to get in the big final,'" Phelps said. "Him and I enjoy racing each other. Obviously neither one of us wants each other to win, and that's the best part about it. We leave everything in the pool when we race each other."
Phelps and coach Bob Bowman reviewed video of the race immediately afterward. "There are a couple of things I can work on for tonight," said Phelps, whose time is 21st fastest in the world this year. He did not set a time goal for the final, but it could be 51.84, fastest in the world this year by Japan's Takuro Fujii. Phelps' world record, set in 2009, is 49.82.
"I could tell when he came in and I first saw him warm up that it was going to be good," Bowman said. "I was glad it came out in the race. He qualified for nationals (in August). We'll see what's down the road. He has an opportunity if he wants to take advantage of it."