UNITED STATES (AFP) - Olympic legend Michael Phelps was "feeling like a kid" again after his first competition in 20 months, and eager to see where his comeback will take him.
"As a whole, I felt pretty good just being able to get back in the water and race again," Phelps said on Friday, after he closed out his appearance in the Mesa Grand Prix with an unfamiliar and experimental 50m sprint "I'm pretty excited," said Phelps, whose 22 Olympic medals include an astonishing 18 gold. "I felt like a kid. I think that was the coolest part about it." On Friday, fans were treated to an oddity: Phelps in a 50m race.
To make things even looser, Phelps opted to swim butterfly in the 50m freestyle heats, making it more of a training run on the heels of his narrow runner-up finish to Ryan Lochte in the 100m butterfly final on Thursday night.
His time of 24.06 put him seventh in his heat of rivals swimming the traditional freestyle stroke, and 42nd overall.
It was also seven-tenths of a second faster than his 100m fly final split time, even though Phelps said he struggled with the frenetic pace of the one-lap race.
The main attraction of the 50m on Friday, Phelps said, was just to get in one more race. At this point in his training, he didn't feel ready to tackle the 200m free scheduled on Friday, and he didn't want to double up in the 100m fly and 100m free on Thursday.
"The schedule today wasn't ideal for what I should swim at this very moment," Phelps said.
Phelps has tried to quell expectations that he is on an inexorable path to the 2016 Rio Olympics. He's been coy on just what shape this phase of his career might take, although he seems to be pointing toward shorter races such as the 100m fly.
One thing's certain, there won't be another multiple-medal campaign like the one that yielded a stunning eight gold medals in eight events at the 2008 Beijing Games.
And Phelps, who dominated the 400m individual medley at the height of his career, said a return to that demanding event is also off the table.
"I guarantee that," he said, prompting a quick interjection from coach Bob Bowman.
"Is that kind of like 'I will never swim again, ever?'" Bowman said, drawing a laugh.
Otherwise, Phelps isn't offering many absolutes. He's entered in the next stop in USA Swimming's Grand Prix series, the Charlotte Ultraswim in May.
"He's entered in Charlotte," Bowman said, indicating that if Phelps does swim there it could be "maybe the same kind of thing, maybe just one day".
"Beyond that," Bowman added, "some training and we'll see what happens after that."