IRVINE, Calif. — Michael Phelps clocked the fastest time in the world this year in the heats of the 100m butterfly at the U.S. Championships on Friday.
The time was faster than his gold medal-winning swim at the 2012 Olympics.
Phelps, in the fifth meet of his comeback after a 20-month competitive retirement, won his preliminary heat in 51.17 seconds. Ryan Lochte was second in 51.91.
“I wanted to put up the fastest time in the world in Atlanta [a meet in July where he swam 51.67],” Phelps said. “Being able to go [51.1] is decent in the morning.”
Phelps, the three-time reigning Olympic 100m fly champion, finished seventh in the 100m freestyle Wednesday in the first of his four events at the meet.
Lochte was second in the 100m free and third in the 200m backstroke Thursday. He made the team for the Pan Pacific Championships, which are Aug. 21-24 in Gold Coast, Australia.
Phelps has not yet made the Pan Pacs team.
The top two finishers in the 100m fly final Friday night (10:43 ET) guarantee spots on the Pan Pacs team. Third place will also likely make the team.
“I think I have to prove some things in that event,” a not fully satisfied Phelps said. “We’ll see if it happens tonight.”
Phelps’ longtime coach, Bob Bowman, said it was the best swim of Phelps’ comeback “by far.”
“Now we’ve got to put together two good ones in a day,” Bowman said. “That’s a big challenge, apparently, at this point. I thought we were kind of looking good the other day [in the 100m free].”
Once swimmers make the Pan Pacs team in one event, they can enter as many other events as they want at Pan Pacs.
Phelps and Lochte are slated to race the 100m backstroke Saturday and 200m individual medley Sunday, the final two days of the meet.
In other events Friday morning, Olympic silver medalist Elizabeth Beisel was the top qualifier into the 400m IM final.
Tyler Clary and Chase Kalisz, the last two World silver medalists in the men’s 400m IM, were the top qualifiers into the final.
Olympian Claire Donahue led the women’s 100m butterfly final qualifiers.