CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Michael Phelps did a grueling double in the morning preliminaries at the Charlotte Grand Prix on Friday, another big step in his comeback.
He won’t be attempting it again in the evening.
Phelps posted the second-fastest time in the 100-meter butterfly, about an hour after putting up the eighth-best time in the 200 freestyle.
His coach, Bob Bowman, called it a solid performance given where Phelps is in his training. But Bowman knew all along that Phelps would not be doing both races in the evening finals, no matter how fast he went in the prelims. The coach said the two finals were simply too close together and he wanted Phelps to focus on the 100 fly, which he has won at the last three Olympics.
Phelps’ time in the 200 free was 1 minute, 51.69 seconds. He moved up from ninth when defending Olympic champion Yannick Angel of France was disqualified for a false start, which would have put Phelps in the "A" final in the evening against four other U.S. Olympians.
Bowman nixed that idea.
"I thought Michael’s 200 free was actually pretty good for the first one in a couple of years," Bowman said. "He was probably, for my tastes, a little tentative on it. But he split it out quite well and I think it was a good first time out. Now we have some real picture of where he is in it. I think he could definitely do better.
Racing in the final heat with the French star, Phelps trailed at the first turn, looked sluggish through the third of four laps, but came on strong at the end to post a time that was good enough to qualify for the nationals this summer. In the heat, he finished behind Michael Klueh (1:51.52) and Angel (1:51.61), though Angel’s time was later thrown out.
All three were slower that six swimmers in earlier heats, led by Conor Dwyer, a teammate of Phelps’ at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. He touched in 1:49.31.
Phelps looked more comfortable in the 100 fly, an event he has dominated on the world stage for much of the past decade. His time of 53.26 trailed only Pavel Sankovich of Belarus, who swam in the same heat and edged the American at the wall by three-hundredths of a second.
"His 100 fly was really good this morning," Bowman said. "All in all, we’re pleased."
After retiring following the London Games and staying away from the sport for 18 months, Phelps clearly has work to do before he comes anywhere close to matching the sort of times he put up in the prime of his career. He won the 200 free at the Beijing Olympics -- part of his record eight gold medals -- with a then-world record of 1:42.96, nearly 9 seconds faster than he went at Charlotte.
At the U.S. Olympic trials two years ago, Phelps was the top qualifier in 1:45.70, though he decided not to swim the event at the London Games. Angel went on to capture gold in 1:43.14; the Frenchman has since moved to Baltimore to train with Bowman’s team.
But this was only a morning prelim, of course. Even before his DQ, Angel didn’t come close to matching his best time, either, and Grand Prix performances can be misleading because swimmers are at different points in their training cycles, all with the aim of peaking for the bigger events. Plus, the top swimmers know how to conserve their energy in the morning, so they can come back even stronger in the finals.