Headlines all over the country are reading “Michael Phelps Returns to Swimming!” after he was seen competing in the Arena Grand Prix in Mesa, Arizona in late April. Rumors had been flying about Phelps potentially racing again when he entered into the testing pool in late 2013, a necessary pre-emptive step one would have to take some time prior to returning to the water. It at least proved he had a vested interested in competing again.
And he demonstrated that in the pool in Arizona, swimming in two events and by all accounts (including his), having fun.
The 18-time Olympic gold medalist tried his hand at the 50-meter freestyle event (choosing the less-conventional butterfly stroke) as well as the 100 meter butterfly. He took first place in his heat for the latter but didn’t qualify for the finals in the former.
Despite the less-than-Olympic caliber showing, Phelps said he was right where he wanted to be with times. In a tweet he said, “Pumped to be racing again…Happy with the time tonight right where I wanted to be!!”
In a video of his 100 meter butterfly race, Phelps steps up to the block to the sound of loud cheers (the event sold out after the announcement of Phelps’ return). He did his signature arm flap to loosen up before taking to the water, somehow looking like he’d never left the pool.
In an interview with Rowdy Gaines immediately after his first place qualifier finish, he couldn’t stop talking about how much fun it was to be back. When Rowdy asked a simple “Was it fun?” Phelps smiled and replied, “I mean, I felt like a kid, you know, being able to race again and be back at a meet…[I'm] just enjoying it.”
Perhaps that was something Phelps had lost sight of when he retired after the 2012 Olympics in London where becoming the most decorated Olympian in history. I remember watching, reading, hearing about his rigorous training and competition schedule. Swimming competitively had been his life since he was 10 when he went to Baltimore to train under coach Bob Bowman, the man who saw him through three Olympics. Bowman is helping him again in this resurgence effort.
When questioned about the reason for his return for the sport, he said “I’m doing this for me. If I don’t become as successful as you think I would or should be, that’s your own opinion. I enjoy being in the pool and sport of swimming and having fun with what I’m doing. Nobody is forcing me to do this or that. I want to be back in the water.”
Phelps initially signed up for three races but dropped one of the events in order to have a more relaxed return. It took away some of the mental and physical pressure that would come along with competing in multiple events on the same day (although that’s not something that Phelps isn’t used to).
The purpose of the event was more about getting back into a rhythm with his butterfly stroke. All things considered, it wasn’t a bad showing.
There’s no word on what Phelps’ next event will be. He hasn’t committed to the next USA Swimming Grand Prix event that will be held in Charlotte, NC in mid-May. That’s to say nothing of the upcoming World Championships in Russia or the 2016 Rio Olympics.
He’ll face an uphill battle though if he’s serious about making the 2016 Olympics--what would be his fourth in a row. The average age for medalists in the categories he’s likely to compete in is 21.4. Phelps will be ten years older than that if he makes it to Rio.
Whether or not he has Olympic hopes in his sights, Phelps seemed to be enjoying being in the pool competitively for the first time since 2012. For everyone watching in Mesa and all of us following his career, the overwhelming sentiment seems to be “Welcome back, Michael.”