Michael Phelps' plans for comeback starting to come into focus

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Michael Phelps always has a plan. Now, it’s becoming a bit more apparent what he has in mind for his comeback.

Michael Phelps claimed the 100-meter butterfly at Charlotte on Friday night. The decorated Olympian is working his way toward a run at the 2016 Games.  NELL REDMOND/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Michael Phelps claimed the 100-meter butterfly at Charlotte on Friday night. The decorated Olympian is working his way toward a run at the 2016 Games.

In the short term, there will be a month of intense training in the high altitude of Colorado. That will be followed by a couple of minor meets over the summer, before he competes in the two biggest events of 2014: the national championships in Southern California, then the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia. Those results will determine the U.S. team for next year’s world championships.

Looking down the road, it’s clear that Phelps hopes to swim on all three relays at the 2016 Olympics, while likely limiting himself to a pair of individual events. The 100-meter butterfly would certainly be part of the mix, but it’s still up in the air what other race could be on his program. The 200 individual medley is a possibility. So is the 200 freestyle, though it doesn’t seem as likely.

For now, it’s not realistic to attempt a much larger workload because Phelps’ age – he’ll be 31 by the Rio Games, his body unable to recover from multiple events as he once did. Besides, he didn’t come back to put in the kind of tortuous training that was routine during the peak of his career.

“You can only do so much,” his coach, Bob Bowman, said Saturday. “If you have to swim three relays, which we hope to do, and then let’s say he swims one or two other events, then we’re already up to nine swims” over the course of a major meet, including preliminaries and semifinals.

While Phelps isn’t swimming nearly as fast as he once did, his coach has no doubt that he can reclaim his place as one of the world’s top swimmers.

“If he couldn’t be competitive, I wouldn’t let him do it,” Bowman said. “But what is ‘as good?’ I don’t know.”

Phelps won the 100 fly at Charlotte on Friday with a time of 52.13 seconds, which was exactly what he turned in during the first meet of his comeback in Mesa, Ariz.

He described it as a “respectable” effort and said it left him with plenty of areas for improvement.

“The timing of my hips and my strokes was off, so that’s something we have to work on,” Phelps said.

He passed another test by getting through a grueling double in good shape, competing in the 200 freestyle during the Friday morning prelims before swimming just the fly in the evening. Bowman will be looking to push it even more at next month’s Santa Clara Grand Prix, where Phelps will take part in the entire meet and might do a double-double <0x2014> two races in both the morning and the evening.

“We’ll have a better idea of what my body can handle,” Phelps said.

He’s not quite as enthusiastic about the training session in Colorado, which begins May 27, but realizes that it’s a necessary step to build up the sort of endurance he needs.

He will also take part in a hastily assembled meet that Bowman helped put together at the University of Georgia in mid-July, just to give Phelps some additional racing experience during the lengthy gap between Santa Clara and the national championships in early August.

All part of the plan to make sure Phelps is good to go by the time he gets to Rio.

“He can’t come back,” Bowman said, “and do something terrible.”

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