Michael Phelps snapped a six-race winless streak Saturday, reached a goal time and warmed up more to re-adding the 200m butterfly, an event he previously swore off, to a potential 2016 Olympic trials schedule.
The 22-time Olympic medalist notched a 200m butterfly victory — at a Pro Swim Series meet in Santa Clara, Calif. — his first win in the event since the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Also Saturday, Missy Franklin took third in the 100m backstroke at her first meet since the NCAA Championships in March.
Phelps clocked 1:57.62 (video here), swimming 1.28 seconds faster than the morning preliminaries and beating the two fastest U.S. men in the event from 2014 (Tyler Clary, Tom Shields).
“I said if I wanted to set myself up for a good time at the end of the summer, I need to go 1:57 here,” Phelps told media in Santa Clara. “I’m very pleased.”
Phelps improved on his time from May, when he went 2:00.77 in his first 200m butterfly final since taking silver at the London 2012 Olympics.
Phelps’ 200m fly world record is 1:51.51 from 2009. His Olympic debut came in the 200m fly, when he placed fifth at the Sydney 2000 Olympics at age 15, clocking 1:56.50. His first world record also came in the 200m fly, long his signature event.
But Phelps was adamant last year in his return from a 20-month competitive retirement that he would not compete in the 200m fly again. The 200m fly was the second-most grueling event on Phelps’ program at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics behind the 400m individual medley.
In May 2014, a smiling Phelps cut off a reporter’s question at the mention of the 200m butterfly.
“Nope, uh-uh,” Phelps said then. “I will tell you that that race and the 400m IM are definitely gone.”
One month ago, Phelps had a different mindset.
“For me to ever want to really compete at that race, I would make sure that I was in the best shape possible,” Phelps said one day before his 2:00.77 for seventh place in Charlotte in May. “I know what I have to do to be able to get there. I don’t know if I’m ready to do that.”
His coach, Bob Bowman, appears to be training Phelps to get into that shape. In between Charlotte and Santa Clara, Phelps did a set of 150m butterflies as opposed to the usual 100m butterflies.
“We’ve been doing things in workout that I haven’t done in a long time in butterfly,” Phelps said on Universal Sports. “Having that confidence back helped me [Saturday].”
Phelps’ victory improved not only on his Charlotte result and time, but also his overall feeling.
“I didn’t die like I did in Charlotte,” he said. “It wasn’t as painful as it was in Charlotte.”
Phelps said he needs to improve the second half of his 200m butterfly if he’s going to continue swimming it. In Santa Clara, Phelps swam the second 100 in 1:02.06.
“I need to get that second 100 under a minute because there aren’t many swimmers in the world who can do that,” Phelps said. “I know what I have to do to be able to do that.”
If Phelps does swim the 200m butterfly at the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials (June 26-July 3 in Omaha next year), he could try to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team in all but one of the events he swam at the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Olympics, when he won medals in all of his events (all gold in Beijing).
In 2012, Phelps talked of swimming a lighter load for the London Games, but he re-added the 400m IM (after he had sworn it off) and swam in seven races (including three relays) in the British capital. Phelps has regularly been swimming the 100m fly, 100m and 200m freestyles and 200m IM in this comeback.
Phelps said Saturday that he’s more open to 200m fly training now than he was going into the London Olympics, where he was beaten by South African Chad le Clos for gold by .05.
“I almost got away with doing no work for a 200m fly,” for the London Games, Phelps said Saturday, “and almost won a gold medal.”
It’s clear Phelps is cognizant of what the rest of the world is doing in the 200m fly. He said last month it’s “not that fast an event” when comparing times now to times a decade ago.
In Sydney 2000, Tom Malchow won gold in 1:55.35. Two men worldwide have broken 1:55 since the London Olympics, Japan’s Daiya Seto and South Africa’s le Clos.
“I’ve talked about it before, and we haven’t really seen much progression in this event over the last couple of years,” Phelps said Saturday. “I’m not sure if I’m going to swim it this summer at Nationals [in San Antonio in August], or what’s really going to happen over the next year.”
Phelps’ time Saturday was not all that impressive globally, ranking 40th in the world this year and fifth among Americans.
Also Saturday, Olympic 100m free champion Nathan Adrian took the 50m free in 21.97, ranking eighth in the world this year.
FINA Swimmer of the Year Katinka Hosszu of Hungary swept the 200m butterfly and 100m backstroke after winning the 400m IM and taking second in the 200m free on Friday.
Hosszu beat the Olympic and World champion Franklin, who was third and also finished third in the 200m free Friday.
Simone Manuel prevailed in the women’s 50m free in 24.75, ranking 11th in the world this year. Manuel, a rising Stanford sophomore, has been the fastest American in the event each of the last three years.
Ryan Murphy, a rising California junior, easily beat Olympic champion Matt Grevers and World silver medalist David Plummer in the 100m backstroke. Murphy clocked 53.83, followed by Grevers (54.45) and Plummer (54.55). Olympic silver medalist Nick Thoman was fifth (55.25).
Grevers remains the fastest American this year (53.27), with Great Britain’s Chris Walker-Hebborn leading the world (52.88).
Russian Yulia Efimova and American Cody Miller won the 200m breaststrokes after capturing the 100m breasts on Friday.
Competition concludes in Santa Clara on Sunday (USASwimming.org, 8 p.m. ET).