Michael Phelps is sick and tired.
“Of just getting whooped,” the most decorated Olympian of all time told media Thursday.
Phelps headlines a Pro Swim Series meet in Santa Clara, Calif., from Friday through Sunday (Universal Sports, Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m. ET; USASwimming.org live for all sessions).
It’s his first meet since a mid-May competition in Charlotte that he called “horrendous” and “pretty garbage” and said at its conclusion that he needed to reassess “a bunch of stuff.”
In Charlotte, Phelps finished worse than second place in all of his events at a meet for the first time since the Sydney 2000 Olympics, when he was 15.
“He’s had a very good training cycle since he came back [from an Arizona treatment program following a September DUI arrest] in November,” coach Bob Bowman said, sitting next to Phelps on Thursday. “The one thing he hasn’t done is swim well in a meet yet. So, this is a great chance to do that. Any time now, I’m ready. But he’s done the things to be able to swim well in a meet, and that’s what’s important. He’s actually laid a foundation of training, which, if he wants to get in his head and step on the gas tomorrow, he’ll be ready to go.”
Bowman, too, reassessed after Charlotte. That Phelps swam a 200m butterfly in Charlotte in 2:00.77, more than four seconds slower than his time at the 2000 Olympics, was not acceptable.
“I was like, no, we’re not doing that again,” Bowman said. “So let’s do something [in training] to make sure he won’t do that again.”
Phelps said he’s done things in practice that he’s never done — such as a set of five 150 butterflies.
“[Phelps] probably hasn’t hurt that bad in a very long time,” Bowman said.
It’s also helped having Chase Kalisz to go head-to-head with in workouts. Kalisz, a longtime North Baltimore Aquatic Club swimmer and the World 400m individual medley silver medalist, recently finished his junior year at the University of Georgia. Kalisz joined Phelps for that grueling set of butterflies.
“Chase killed [Phelps] on it,” Bowman said.
“I was trying to leave that part out of it,” Phelps interjected. “I don’t like when my younger brother beats me in workouts.”
Bowman said his toughest recent challenge as coach was to remind Phelps of the hard work it took him to reach his super-elite status. Phelps arguably hasn’t been there in at least five years, though he was the only U.S. men’s swimmer in 2014 to post a world-leading time for the year in an Olympic event (the 100m butterfly).
“When he first came back after his year off [a 20-month competitive retirement from the London Olympics to April 2014], it’s like the honeymoon, right, Oh, we’re so glad Michael’s back,” Bowman said. “Anything he did was good because we had no expectations. Even though he swam a time that was ranked No. 1 in the world, he swam the same the whole season. He didn’t really make a progression. We started this year on a different foot. He’s actually done the work that it needs to take. Now we’re into the part where it’s serious. You’re either going to step up and face the heat and keep going, or not step up and not the face the heat and not keep going. But he’s actually in a position now where he can move to the top level if he wants to.
“He’s never looked better physically.”
Santa Clara might mark Phelps’ most competitive meet through the rest of this year, since he’s not going to the World Championships in August as part of his punishment for that DUI.
After Santa Clara, Phelps will head to train at altitude in Colorado Springs, will probably swim a couple of events at a smaller meet, Bowman said, and then head to the U.S. Championships in San Antonio from Aug. 4-8.
“If you would ask any swimmer, they would want to swim at the highest level the year before the Olympics, especially when you qualify for the team,” Phelps said. “It would be nice to swim against the best in the world to compare yourself [at Worlds], but I can also do that from Nationals with times and stuff.”
Phelps’ schedule in Santa Clara is interesting.
He’s entered in five events, with three of them on one day — the 200m individual medley, 200m backstroke and 100m freestyle on Sunday.
Bowman said Phelps will probably swim in at least the morning preliminaries for all of those events, leaving the door open for Phelps to scratch any of them for the night finals.
“At this point it’s me racing myself,” Phelps said. “That’s something that I have to continue to do more and more is to push myself to the next level. … I’m still, I think, in the point of just trying to figure out what I actually have in the tank and how fast I can actually swim.”