The new, open, revitalized Michael Phelps felt a little frustrated warming up at the University of Texas pool on Thursday, ahead of this weekend’s Pro Swim Series meet in Austin.
“I remember those feelings that I had last year,” Phelps said.
In January 2015, Phelps was on the pool deck in Austin. But he wasn’t part of any races.
The 22-time Olympic medalist was in the middle of a six-month suspension following his Sept. 30, 2014, DUI arrest. He had spent 45 days in an Arizona treatment facility the previous fall and was one month removed from pleading guilty to drunken driving in a Baltimore court.
So why did he travel to Austin when he wasn’t allowed to compete?
“So I could, train, really, be back in the meet environment,” Phelps told media in Austin on Thursday, before looking to his right at longtime coach Bob Bowman. “I don’t know if he [Bowman] had some other little secret.”
“Apparently is was motivational on some levels,” Bowman said, turning to Phelps and eliciting laughs at a news conference.
“I don’t think I needed much more motivation,” Phelps replied.
The picture of the suspended Phelps standing on the Austin deck last year and watching the 200m freestyle, standing right behind U.S. national team director Frank Busch, hasn’t left the swimmer.
Phelps knew then that he wouldn’t be joining Busch and his teammates at the World Championships at the end of the season, either.
“Didn’t really know what to expect at the end of the year after seeing where we were at that point,” Phelps said Thursday. “It frustrated me not being able to be there and knowing that I wasn’t going to be there at the end of the year to help out as much as I could.”
This week, Phelps returned to Austin, where he broke his first world record in 2001, as arguably the best swimmer in the world.
In August, Phelps clocked the fastest times since 2009 in the 100m and 200m butterfly and the best of the year in the 200m individual medley.
He’s entered in those three events plus the 100m and 200m freestyles in the Austin meet from Friday through Sunday.
Finals are at 7 ET each night. USASwimming.org will live stream all sessions, while NBC Sports Live Extra will live stream Saturday and Sunday’s finals.
Phelps is expected to swim the 100m and 200m butterfly and the 200m IM at the Olympic trials in June and July and perhaps also the 100m and 200m freestyles, at the very least to prove he belongs on the Olympic 4x100m and 4x200m free relays. That would give him six events at the Rio 2016 Olympics, including the 4x100m medley relay.
Bowman said Phelps has the potential at his final meet in Rio to break his 100m and 200m butterfly world records from 2009 and approach Ryan Lochte‘s 200m IM world record, according to The Associated Press.
Austin comes first.
“I’m a hell of a lot happier being here and being able to swim,” said Phelps, who shares the spotlight with the rest of U.S. swimming’s Big Four — Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin and Lochte — this weekend. “Last year I came here and was swimming in the diving well and swimming in the competition pool in between sessions, and standing and watching swimming when I want to be in isn’t fun.”
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