Last August, Michael Phelps proved that he’s still the world’s best swimmer in three races. But a fourth eludes him.
The 200m freestyle.
Phelps recently pored over video of his 200m freestyle victories at the 2007 World Championships and the 2008 Olympics.
He’s comparing his best all-time swims in the event to his (much slower) races of his two-year-old comeback.
Why? He lost his stroke. He’s trying to find it.
“I haven’t felt anywhere close to my stroke, before the last three weeks,” Phelps told media Thursday.
In his first race since the rediscovery, Phelps was ninth overall in the 200m freestyle preliminary heats at a meet in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday morning.
Eight hours later, Phelps went 2.42 seconds faster to win his consolation final in a time that would have placed third overall. The time — 1:48.21 — was .01 off Phelps’ best 200m free of his comeback.
“I see what I’m doing wrong, but it’s been hard for me to fix it,” Phelps said afterward. “It was really just stop overthinking it and go back to the basics. That’s what made me able to kind of feel like I can swim freestyle again. I think it’s helped a lot.”
Since the start of 2014, he’s fastest in the world in the 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley, all thanks to swims at last August’s U.S. Championships.
But in the 200m free, which he didn’t swim at Nationals in August, he ranks No. 14 among U.S. swimmers.
Phelps likely needs to drop into the 1:46 range by the Olympic Trials in June to earn a place on the Rio 4x200m freestyle relay team.
Trying to make the individual 200m free in Rio, by finishing top two at trials, may be too much of an ask.
“I would love to swim that race individually; I don’t know if I will,” Phelps said. “I wouldn’t swim that race unless I was 100 percent.”
The 200m freestyle has been the most fickle event of Phelps’ storied career.
In 2004, Phelps went against his coach’s suggestion and contested the 200m freestyle at the Olympics, finishing third in the “Race of the Century” behind Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband. He broke the American record.
In 2008, Phelps swam the best race of his life in the 200m freestyle final at the Beijing Olympics, breaking his world record by nine tenths of a second.
In 2012, Phelps edged Ryan Lochte in the 200m freestyle at the Olympic Trials. But he dropped the event off his London Olympic program, not wanting to attempt the same, daunting eight-event schedule as 2004 and 2008.
“The biggest thing that I really had tonight was I was able to get confidence back in that race,” Phelps said Thursday. “Because I haven’t really swam that race well in a really long time. … I don’t think I’ve swam a good individual 200m free since 2008.”
Racing continues in Mesa on Friday, with finals on NBC Sports Live Extra.