AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Michael Phelps’ 2010 ended with the echoes of his coach saying he’d been surpassed as the best swimmer in the world.
So welcome to 2011, when Phelps tries to shut out his subpar year and start preparing for the 2012 Olympics.
Phelps said Thursday he’s putting aside all distractions, including his budding golf game, to start preparing for the world championships later this year and the London Olympics.
Everything starts Friday when he gets in the pool at the Austin Grand Prix at the University of Texas where he’ll swim six events over three days.
Phelps will race five times against Ryan Lochte, who got the best of him at last year’s national championships and dominated the short-course world championships to emerge as Phelps’ chief rival for London.
“Just getting in here and getting some races under my belt is the No. 1 step. Training could be better, could be worse. I’m starting to feel a little bit better in the water. Being able to feel the water is going to better in a racing environment, especially with some the guys here I’ll be able to race against.”
Guys like Lochte, who beat Phelps in the 200 individual medley and the 200 backstroke at the national championships. Lochte set the only two individual world records last year and won all five individual races he entered at the short course championships.
Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, said he looking at the Grand Prix races as training for Phelps, not necessarily competition with Lochte.
“Michael’s traditionally got a lot out of swimming and racing hard in meets,” Bowman said. ‘He comes out of it and trains a lot better when we get home. I’m looking forward to that.”
Bowman pursed his lips when reminded of his comment last year that Phelps was not the best swimmer in the world in 2010.
“I’m always trying to push him … that’s why I said that,” Bowman said. “But when you look at what he’s done already, he’s the greatest of all time even if he walks out the door and never takes another stroke. For him to even be here is a plus. To be in here with some goals and even motivated to swim fast, is even better.”
Bowman has started counting down the days to the Olympic trials and reminds Phelps regularly that the weeks are starting to fly by.
“It’s going to be here before we know it,” Phelps said. “Everybody knows it’s time to start focusing, buckling down and getting ready for it. It’s hard to believe Beijing was 2½ years ago.”
Phelps said he has yet to set an event schedule for what he expects to swim at the 2012 Olympics.
Phelps picked a good place to kick-start his Olympic drive. The Texas pool is where he set his first world record in the 200 butterfly in 2001 when he was 15 years old.
As soon as they walked in the building, swimmer and coach looked to make sure Phelps’ name and time of 1 minute, 54.92 seconds were still on the board of pool records.
“This is kind of where it all started,” Phelps said.
Other swimmers have questioned if in fact Phelps does have anything left to prove after winning 14 career Olympic gold medals, including his incredible haul of eight in 2008.
“If I didn’t have goals I wouldn’t have come back and gone another four years,” Phelps said. “There’s still things in this sport I want to accomplish and I know how hard that’s going to be.”
As for that golf game he loves so much? Those clubs will lucky to get a peek out of the closet for the next 18 months.
“We’ll retire the clubs for a little bit while we get back on track with swimming. I have my whole life to golf and try to master that sport,” Phelps said. “The clock is running out and it’s time to put all the focus on one thing.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)