FEDERAL WAY, Wash, Dec 4, (AP): Michael Phelps took another step toward an Olympic comeback, winning the 200-meter individual medley Thursday night at the US Winter National Championships in the pool where he kick-started his career.
Preparing for the Rio Games next year, the 30-year-old Phelps finished in 1 minute, 57.61 seconds, well off his world-best time this year of 1:54.75. Ryan Lochte set the world record of 1:54.00 in 2011.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve had a problem with over the last year has been my freestyle,” Phelps said. “I think it actually felt decent tonight. I didn’t feel like I was standing still and dying. One-fifty-seven is about where I want to be. I mean it’s faster than where I was at the end of the year last year going into nationals. So, I think we’re on the right track.”
The 18-time Olympic champion also will race in the 100 butterfly on Friday and the 200 butterfly Saturday at the King Aquatic Center, where he first burst on the scene as a 15-year-old.
“The first time I ever broke 2 minutes in the 200 fly was here,” said Phelps, who has the posted world-best times in the 100 and 200 butterfly and 200 individual medley this year. “Six months after that, I made my first Olympic team.”
“After I swam 1:59 here, that’s when everything just kind of took off. Like I said, I made my first team and there it went. It was good. I’ve enjoyed this pool.”
Phelps, who has tried to make changes in his life since a second arrest in 2014 for drunken driving, said he is enjoying all aspects his pursuit of a fifth Olympic berth.
“My one thing is just how can I be better each day, both in and out of the pool? I think that’s something that I just try to do, if I can make little improvements, day-by-day,” he said. “I’m loving life and that’s how I’ve been, really over the last year. I’ve been able to take a lot of strides and it’s been showing in the pool.
“I’m just enjoying every step of the way. I think once we go get to the end of the road, it probably will be more emotional than it was in 2012. Just because I am doing this because I want to,” he said. “Like I’ve said before, I was kind of forced in 2012. This ride’ll be a little bit better than that one.”
Chase Kalisz was second Thursday in 1:58.77.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Nathan Adrian, who set the US record in the 50 freestyle in August at 21.37, won the event in 21.76.
Adrian, from nearby Bremerton, drew a loud response from the crowd when he was announced for the final race of the evening.
“It was fun,” he said. “I was actually impressed with how many people came out on a Thursday night. Hopefully, Friday and Saturday are a little bit more exciting.”
Allison Schmitt, who won the 200-meter freestyle in the 2012 Olympics, won the women’s 400 freestyle in 4:06.88, well off the US and world record of 3:58.37 held by Katie Ledecky.
Olympian Conor Dwyer, part of the gold medal-winning 800 freestyle relay in 2012, won the men’s 400 freestyle in 3:48.11. The US record is 3:42.78 set by Larsen Jensen in 2008.
Maya DiRado won the womens’s 200 IM in 2:11.10, ahead of 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Caitlin Leverenz at 2:11.79. Simone Manuel won the women’s 50 freestyle.