The 2014 “Michael Phelps Comeback Tour” has been all it was billed to be, from quick sprints to sold-out spectator seating. But in the pool, things had been slowing down some for Mr. Swimming as his 100 fly times had started to plateau after a surprisingly-fast start.
The 100 fly, the one clear staple so far of Phelps’ second-career lineup, saw Phelps start at 52.13 at Mesa Grand Prix, tie that time on the nose in Charlotte, then cut just .02 off it at Santa Clara. After that last race in particular, Phelps seemed visibly frustrated with his lack of improvement.
Maybe that frustration was the key, because in his next competition, Phelps finally broke through, blasting his way to a 51.67 in dominating the tough Athens Bulldog Grand Slam over the weekend. Not to say Phelps’ earlier swims weren’t impressive, but his comeback to that point had still lacked the really big breakout swim that would put the whole world on edge concerning his return.
51.67 seconds after the starter’s beep, Phelps had his statement swim.
That time ranks #2 in the world for 2014, and is just .07 out of the top slot. Phelps is no stranger to being at the top of lists, and you don’t get the sense he’s lost his drive to be the best over his year-and-a-half-long retirement.
What might be most exciting are the splits. Phelps was out in 24.3 and back in 27.2 – consider that Phelps, at his best, typically back-halfs his races and you’ll see some intriguing room for improvement over the final 50 as the most decorated Olympian of all-time continues to work his way back into racing condition.
Without even speaking to improvement, if Phelps can merely repeat that time at next month’s nationals, he should be a clear-cut “A” finalist with an excellent shot at qualifying for both Worlds and Pan Pacs. And if he can find some more speed in that 6’4″ frame before Irvine? Then he might be heading back into international competition as the world’s best in an event he’s ruled on the Olympic stage for the past decade.
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