BALTIMORE (WJZ/AP)—There was talk that the most decorated Olympian in the world may be ready to compete again. Now, it’s official.
Jessica Kartalija reports Baltimore’s own Michael Phelps is coming out of retirement, and his fans are thrilled.
At Meadowbrook Aquatic & Fitness Center, swimmers with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club train with images of Michael Phelps over their shoulders.
They’ve heard the news that the Baltimore bullet will compete again.
“I think it’s great. It’s great for the sport, good for him,” said Todd Young, of Virginia.
Phelps is expected to compete in his first meet since the 2012 Olympics. It’s a move that paves the way for the 22-time Olympic medalist to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Phelps rejoined the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s drug testing pool last year and regained his eligibility for competition in March.
Phelps fans come from around the world to train here in Baltimore. One family came from Belgium.
“It’s a big gift because we are coming for the swim camp, and if we see Michael Phelps it’s very nice for her,” said Natalie Kalit.
Phelps will compete in Mesa, Ariz. on April 24-26. He has entered in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly events.
“I think he’s just going to test the waters a little bit and see how it goes,” Bob Bowman, the swimmer’s longtime coach, told The Associated Press by phone from Baltimore. “I wouldn’t say it’s a full-fledged comeback.”
The news wasn’t that big of a surprise to swimmers at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. They’ve seen Phelps training at Meadowbrook since September.
“He’s gotten back into good shape since September,” Bowman said. “He can give a good effort and certainly not be embarrassed. He’s in enough shape to swim competitively.”
Phelps retired after taking six medals in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Bowman said Phelps is “pretty far” from being back in top form. He’s been training Monday through Friday with Bowman’s team at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.
Phelps turns 29 in June and is the winningest and most decorated athlete in Olympic history. He captured 18 gold medals and 22 medals overall at the last three Summer Games. He broke Mark Spitz’s record for a single Olympics by winning eight gold medals at Beijing in 2008.
Phelps had vowed that he wouldn’t swim into his 30s. His camp is being low-key about the comeback.
“I think he’s just really enjoying it,” Bowman said. “He enjoys the training and being physically fit. He just kind of wants to see where he’s at. It’s more really for fun. It’s been nice for me to see him swim just for the joy of it really.”
In Mesa, Phelps will swim 100 free and 100 fly preliminaries on the first day. Then, if he qualifies, he’ll decide which race to swim for the evening finals, Bowman said. He’ll swim the 50 free on the second day and might swim the 50 fly “just for fun,” the coach added.
Phelps will stick to the shorter races and some relays rather than the grueling individual medleys he swam during the height of his career.
“He’s really doing this because he wants to — there’s no outside pressure at all,” Bowman said.
Phelps has already entered the remaining Grand Prix meets in Charlotte, N.C., in May and Santa Clara, Calif., in June, although Bowman said no decision has been made on whether he will compete.
Depending on his early results, Phelps could compete in the U.S. National Championships in August in Irvine, Calif., where teams will be selected for the 2015 world championships.
“I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent on the radar,” Bowman said. “After Mesa, we’re going to sit down and talk about it.”
Besides Phelps, USA Swimming said Olympians Ryan Lochte and Katie Ledecky are among those expected to swim in the Arena Grand Prix at Skyline Aquatic Center.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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