MESA, AZ (CBSMiami/AP) — It was a tough comeback for Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps as he went up against rival and fellow Olympian Ryan Locthe Thursday.
Phelps lost his first race since the 2012 London Olympics.
The swimmer who owns 18 Olympic gold medals in middle and longer distance races is going to try sprinting. Phelps will compete in the 50-meter freestyle at the Arena Grand Prix on Friday, except he plans to swim his morning heat using a butterfly stroke.
It’s allowed under the rules, and Phelps is doing it to work on his stroke under race conditions, something he hadn’t experienced until beginning his comeback this week after a 20-month retirement.
“If I can get into the rhythm of my normal stroke again in the 50, I’ll be pretty happy,” he said.
Also competing in the 50 free are former Olympic gold medalist Anthony Ervin, Nathan Adrian, and Michael Andrew, a 15-year-old from Lawrence, Kan., who has already broken over 30 national age-group records.
A relaxed Phelps was smiling Thursday after losing in the 100 butterfly to Lochte.
Lochte touched first in 51.93 seconds, second-fastest in the world this year. Phelps was second in 52.13, fourth-quickest in the world. He lowered his time of 52.84 from the morning heats.
Coach Bob Bowman said Phelps was better technically in the morning than at night.
“He missed a whole stroke on the turn,” Bowman said. “My expectations were he would come and maybe enjoy it and not be terrible, so all those were met. That’s a really good time to start with.”
Lochte beat him to the first turn and Phelps said “that may have been the worst turn that I have ever done in my entire life.”
It didn’t matter to the sellout crowd of 1,200, which loudly cheered Phelps.
“Everyone is happy that he’s back in the water,” Lochte said. “It’s good for the sport.”
Natalie Coughlin took her own extended break after the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She returned to earn a relay bronze medal in London and at 31 is making a push toward the 2016 Rio Games. Phelps turns 29 in June.
“When he started talking about coming back, I thought it was so good for him,” she said. “He’s so young and he’s enjoying it, so why not?”
Lochte said he and Phelps hadn’t seen each other since London, but they picked up where they left off, joking with each other before trying to beat each other.
“I’m going to do everything I can to try to get my hand on the wall before him in every single race; I don’t care what it is and it’s the same for him,” Phelps said. “We bring the best out of one another.”
Phelps’ times were easily good enough to surpass the qualifying standard of 54.79 for the U.S. national championships in August. That meet will decide the team for next year’s world and Pan Pacific championships.
But he’s not rushing to commit to anything.
“I’m not saying yes or no yet,” he said. “I’m not putting any pressure on myself to say I’m doing this or doing that in the future. I’m just enjoying myself right now.”
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