Swimming: Phelps headlines nationals with eye on Rio, Russia
Michael Phelps will have one eye on Russia at the US swimming championships this week but says he’ll look closer to home for the real measure of his readiness for Rio.
It’s been a bumpy road for the 18-time Olympic gold medalist since he ended his near two-year retirement that followed the 2012 Games.
His comeback looked well on track when he booked his berth last year for this season’s world championships in Kazan, Russia.
But he was denied that trip as part of the sanctions handed down in the wake of his drunk-driving arrest last September.
Instead Phelps headlines the action at the US nationals that start in San Antonio on Thursday.
“Ever since that decision was made, the focus was turned to this,” Phelps said Wednesday.
“I think this is a test for me — (to see) if I can kind of get back to where it didn’t matter who was in the pool, it didn’t matter who was racing as long as I raced myself.”
That was his intention in 2004, when he took on Australian Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands in the 200m freestyle at the Athens Olympics.
He finished third in an event he would go on to make his own.
“It was just me challenging myself,” Phelps said.
Lately his biggest personal challenges have come outside of the pool.
In the wake of his second drunk-driving episode Phelps attended inpatient addiction treatment as well as Alcoholics Anonymous.
‘OK with who I am’
In April Phelps described the process as “brutal,” but says it has brought him to a more peaceful place.
“I guess I was just able to really understand who I am and be OK with who I am,” said the 30-year-old. “I’m able to wake up every day and be happy with who I am and be happy with what I’m doing.”
But Phelps is a fierce competitor, and if he can’t stand atop a world championships podium this year that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t like to see himself atop a list of world-leading times.
“Times are really what I want to see here,” said Phelps, who has already taken note of the world-leading 1min 53.48sec put up by Hungarian Laszlo Cseh in winning the 200m butterfly world title.
“That’s a really good swim. He hasn’t been close to that since 2008,” Phelps said of Cseh, an old rival who also turns 30 this year.
“That’s a great swim, and he split it out really well too,” added Phelps, whose world record of 1:51.51 was set back in 2009. “That’s just what I’m looking at … what kind of splits I can put up.”
In June Phelps won the 200m fly at a meeting in Santa Clara with a time of 1:58.06 — a three-second improvement over his time the month before in Charlotte.
Although he once vowed he wouldn’t race it again, the 200m fly appears to be back on Phelps’s Rio radar and will be a key event for him this week along with the 100m fly and 200m individual medley — both events he could shoot for at the 2016 Games.
Phelps is also entered in the 200m breaststroke, a departure from his usual competitive program.
“I’m just excited to swim,” Phelps said. “This is what I was preparing for the whole entire year.”