Michael Phelps starts the 50-meter freestyle preliminary heat during the Arena Grand Prix swim event, in Mesa, Ariz., on April 25. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Next up for Michael Phelps’ comeback: Two events that produced Olympic gold.
Phelps has entered the 100-meter butterfly and the 200 freestyle at the Charlotte Grand Prix meet in North Carolina next week, his coach, Bob Bowman, told The Associated Press on Monday night.
With both events on May 16, Bowman can stick to the plan of building up Phelps’ endurance while staying away, at least for now, from the grueling, multi-day programs that were once the norm for Phelps. There will be morning preliminaries and evening finals, though the coach said he’s not yet certain Phelps will actually compete in both races.
Phelps returned to competitive swimming at a meet in Arizona less than two weeks ago, his first since retiring after the 2012 London Games as the most decorated athlete in Olympic history.
He is the three-time defending Olympic champion in the 100 fly, so it’s obvious that race would be part of any plans to compete at the Rio Games. He won the 200 free at the 2008 Beijing Games — during his record eight-gold performance — but dropped the event in London.
Phelps also competed in two events at the Mesa Grand Prix, finishing second to longtime rival Ryan Lochte in the 100 fly and matching the fourth-fastest time in the world this year. The other event, the 50 freestyle, wasn’t nearly as serious. That race has never been part of Phelps’ program at a major meet, and he even used his preliminary heat to work on his butterfly stroke. Not surprisingly, he finished 42nd overall against swimmers who were using the much faster freestyle.
Still, it was a good starting point for what the Phelps’ camp is describing as a low-key comeback.
“We were encouraged by his performances in Mesa and look forward to trying a 200 in Charlotte,” Bowman said in a text message.
Phelps has also put his name in for the final Grand Prix meet of the season in Santa Clara, California, next month, though he is taking the comeback one step at a time and not committing to any long-term goals.
Still, it’s clear he wouldn’t be putting in the work if the 2016 Olympics were not his primary focus. Phelps has already competed in four Summer Games, winning 18 golds and 22 medals overall.
The Grand Prix schedule provides tuneups for the U.S. national championships in August, where spots will be earned for the Pan Pacific Championships later that month and next year’s world championships in Kazan, Russia — an important steppingstone for the Olympics.
After the Charlotte meet, Phelps will head to Colorado for high-altitude training beginning May 27.