SAN ANTONIO (AFP) - Michael Phelps sent a clear message to his 2016 Rio Olympic rivals after taking gold with another stunning world-best time in the 100 metres butterfly at the US championships on Saturday.
The 22-time Olympic medallist delivered his second dazzling performance in as many days as he blitzed the field with a time of 50.45sec, on day three of the nationals.
He also eclipsed the 50.56 time that South African Chad le Clos posted in winning the 100m butterfly at the world championships some eight hours earlier in Kazan, Russia.
Le Clos had marked that victory by aiming some pointed verbal barbs at Phelps - who is swimming in San Antonio this week rather than in Kazan because his drink-driving arrest in September cost him his world championships berth.
As so often in his storied career, Phelps found the trash talking merely motivational.
"I absolutely love it," said Phelps, whose 18 Olympic golds include his incredible eight in Beijing in 2008. "It just fuels me. Whatever I do in the pool will speak for itself."
His 100m fly time was also almost a second faster than his gold-medal winning performance at the 2012 London Olympics.
"I think that is exactly where I want to be right now," said Phelps, who set the world record of 49.82 in Rome in 2009. "Let that swim make statements."
Phelps easily beat runner-up Jack Conger, who finished in 51.33, while David Nolan was third in 52.15.
The 30-year-old swimming legend added the 100m butterfly to the gold he won in the 200m butterfly on Friday in another world leading time of 1:52.94 which he called "close to probably my best 200 fly ever".
It was faster than the 1:52.96 le Clos swam to beat Phelps at the London Olympics and faster than Hungarian Laszlo Cseh's 1:53.48 to win the world title in Kazan this week.
Exactly how much progress Phelps was making in his comeback was a bit of a mystery coming into the US meet, thanks to the suspension he served for driving under the influence and the fact that he had not tapered his training to produce his fastest times in any meeting this year.
However, Phelps' performances in the US championships have left no doubt he is on course to challenge again at the Rio Games which will run next year from Aug 5-21.
The long-distance back-and-forth with le Clos - not mentioned by name by Phelps - should spice up the action in the Rio pool.
Their rivalry stretches back to the London Games, where le Clos shocked Phelps for the 200m fly gold.
Le Clos apparently took exception this year when Phelps observed that since he had stepped away after the 2012 Games, times in the 200 fly had not improved much.
Phelps insisted he hadn't meant to needle any potential rival.
"I don't do it to talk trash," he said. "I do it to state facts. I know my facts about the sport of swimming."
After "two pretty good swims" in the butterfly, Phelps targets the 200m individual medley on Sunday.
"I've come a long way in the last year, and stuff like this makes me excited and motivated for the year to come," he said. "I have some motivation from myself and others, and I'm just going to go and keep doing what I've been doing."