A little more than six months ago, Michael Phelps competed in five finals in a Charlotte meet, finished no better than third and used the words “horrendous” and “pretty garbage” to describe his swimming.
This past weekend, Phelps won all three of his finals at the U.S. Winter Nationals, ending the meet Saturday night by running away in the 200m butterfly in 1:56.11, which was 4.53 seconds faster than he swam the event at the lousy Charlotte meet.
NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air Winter Nationals coverage Sunday from 1-2 p.m. ET.
“These are just stepping stones,” Phelps told media in Federal Way, Wash. “The fastest I went last year [in the 200m butterfly] was like 1:58, 1:57, so I know that I’m ahead of where I was last year. … It was a struggle in-season last [spring]. I can remember a couple of meets where I was beyond frustrated. I think in Charlotte I was two minutes, and I was irate. I’m just keeping everything in order and taking it step by step. It seems like a long time before trials, but it’ll be here before we know it.”
Phelps also won the 100m butterfly and 200m individual medley in Federal Way. He is the fastest in the world this year in all three of those events, thanks to times when he was peaked for the U.S. Championships in August.
He showed improvement in Federal Way from a meet in Minneapolis three weeks earlier. In Minneapolis, younger training partner Chase Kalisz ran down Phelps to steal the 200m butterfly. On Saturday, Phelps outsplit Kalisz in the last 50 meters and won by 1.08 seconds.
“It makes me hungrier and hungrier to get back in the pool to grind even harder, to get to a place I can dream right now,” Phelps said. “Even though I did win, and I swam good times, there are better times that I can swim for Olympic trials.”
Also Saturday, Missy Franklin completed a backstroke sweep by taking the 200m back in 2:07.87, which was .63 slower than she clocked in Minneapolis.
Also at the meet, Franklin lost to Allison Schmitt in a 200m freestyle for the first time since the London Olympics and, later Saturday, placed fourth in the 100m freestyle, .71 behind winner Simone Manuel.
Olympic 100m backstroke champion Matt Grevers swept the backstrokes like Franklin by taking the 200m in 1:57.24, his fastest time in the longer distance since 2009.
Grevers, though, said after the meet that he’s leaning toward complementing his favored 100m back with the 100m free rather than the 200m back moving forward.
His 200m back time Saturday put him No. 5 among Americans for the year. The top two at the Olympic trials on July 1 make the Olympic team.
“I was hoping to go 1:56, and I think that might have shown some potential for the future,” Grevers told media in Federal Way. “With 1:57, I don’t think there’s any room to make a team with that [for an Olympics], or even if I dropped a couple of seconds. I think you’re going to need to hit 54s.”
Olympic champion Nathan Adrian finished third in the 100m freestyle.
Franklin will fly to Indianapolis this week to compete at Duel in the Pool, along with Ryan Lochte, among others, in a Ryder Cup-style meet against European All-Stars on Friday and Saturday.
Phelps won’t compete at Duel in the Pool but is expected to be at the next Pro Swim Series meet at Austin, Texas, from Jan. 15-17.
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