Michael Phelps won a 100m butterfly preliminary heat in his first competitive swim since the London Olympics and was the fastest qualifier into Thursday night’s A final at the Arena Grand Prix at Mesa, Ariz.
Phelps clocked 52.84 seconds (video here) to beat a field that included Olympic 100m backstroke champion Matt Grevers and two Americans who swam butterfly at the 2013 World Championships, Eugene Godsoe and Tom Luchsinger. Ryan Lochte swam in the heat before Phelps and posted 52.94.
“I felt like a kid, being able to race again and be back at a meet,” Phelps said on Universal Sports. “I literally feel like a 10-year-old kid, just enjoying it. I was excited to get in the water yesterday. I probably came up to the blocks a little early, a little too excited. A new experience again for me, but I like it.”
Phelps’ time is the second fastest for a U.S. man this year, .12 behind Tom Shields from an earlier meet, according to FINA.
Phelps wore a white swim cap, a dark jammer waist-to-knees suit and took his customary condor arm flaps on the starting block. He was second at the 50m mark, .01 behind, according to the race announcer.
Phelps last swam a 100m butterfly at the 2012 Olympics, where he won gold in 51.21. The fastest time in the world so far this year is 51.84, according to SwimVortex.com. South African Chad le Clos won the 2013 World Championship in 51.06.
The 100m butterfly final in Mesa will take place during the night session that begins at 8 p.m. Eastern.
“It sets up, hopefully, a good race tonight,” Phelps said. “I know what I want to do tonight. We’ll see if it happens.”
Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 career medals, retired after winning six medals at the London Olympics but re-entered the drug testing pool last year, allowing him to enter meets this year.
It was announced he signed up for the Mesa Grand Prix on April 14, and he made his first comments since entering the meet on Wednesday, saying he’s back swimming “for fun” and not yet committing to a run to the Rio Olympics.
Phelps is expected to swim one more event in Mesa on Friday, the 50m freestyle.