IRVINE, Calif. — The great Michael Phelps is back, they said after the morning prelims.
“Not yet,” his longtime coach, Bob Bowman, said after the night final. “That was pretty terrible.”
Phelps lost the 100m butterfly (by .01) at a national meet for the first time since the 2004 Olympic Trials on Friday night.
Phelps actually clocked the fastest time of the day, and the fastest time of anyone in the world this year. But he did that in the preliminary heats.
In the final, he went .13 slower. Phelps, known for heart-pounding come-from-behind victories in the 100m fly before his retirement, could not out-touch Tom Shields after running him down over the final 50 meters.
Shields, 23, won in 51.29 seconds, two nights after capturing the 200m fly for his first career national title. Phelps was 51.30.
He was seventh at the 50m wall and was in between strokes going into the turn, forced to glide in and lose momentum (unlike in prelims).
Phelps, in the fifth meet of his comeback following a 20-month competitive break, could take consolation in qualifying for the Pan Pacific Championships, the biggest international meet of 2014. But he wasn’t really in the mood.
“I’m somebody who can’t stand to lose,” Phelps said. “This will definitely be something that sticks with me over the next year.”
Bowman thought Phelps looked nervous before the final, reminding him of Phelps’ first comeback race in Mesa, Ariz., in April.
The pressure of finishing top two to make the Pan Pacs team, perhaps.
That was never an issue for Phelps when he won 22 medals over three Olympics.
Bowman said he thought the last time Phelps felt pressure to make a national team was at the 2000 Olympic Trials, when Phelps was 15.
“I just felt out of it,” Phelps said Friday. “Not my normal self at finals. Normally, I’m very relaxed and very ready. It’s probably just because I’m not used to being in this kind of shape or this kind of feeling going into a meet.
“Normally, I can look back and say I’ve done all the training, I’ve done everything I needed to do to prepare myself. With having a year and a half off and maybe not really going as hard as I probably should have at some of the parts during the year, it shows.”
The razor-thin margin of defeat brought to mind Phelps’ Olympic 100m fly win in 2008, which was by .01 over Milorad Cavic.
Phelps also won the 2004 Olympic 100m fly by .04.
“It’s better to be on the losing side at a meet like this than it is at a bigger meet,” Phelps said.
Phelps, the three-time reigning Olympic 100m fly champ, still improved on a disappointing seventh-place finish in the 100m freestyle, his first event at Nationals on Wednesday.
Phelps qualified to swim any individual events he wants at the Pan Pacific Championships, Aug. 21-24 in Gold Coast, Australia.
South African Chad le Clos, who beat Phelps in the 200m butterfly at the 2012 Olympics, is the only man who has posted a faster 100m fly time than Phelps’ 51.17 since the London Games.
Phelps and Ryan Lochte are entered in both the 100m backstroke Saturday and 200m individual medley Sunday, the final two days of the U.S. Championships.
“I need more training, I need more endurance,” Phelps said. “I need to feel more comfort with my stroke.”
In other events Friday, Olympic silver medalist Elizabeth Beisel won the 400m individual medley in 4:32.98, making her the fourth-fastest woman this year.
Olympic 200m backstroke champion Tyler Clary outdueled World silver medalist Chase Kalisz in the men’s 400m IM in 4:09.51. Clary moved up to No. 2 in the world rankings for 2014.
Kendyl Stewart knocked .54 off her personal best to win the women’s 100m fly in 57.98. She edged 2012 Olympian Claire Donahue by .05.