The world’s most successful Olympian, Michael Phelps, is coming out of retirement to participate in the upcoming event in Mesa, Ariz. on April 24-26, with the possibility of swimming at a fifth Olympics in Rio in 2016.
It will be his first sport appearance since the 2012 London Games, where he won six medals, four of them gold. In overall, the 28-year-old swimmer won 18 Olympic gold medals: six in Athens, eight in Beijing and four in London.
Bob Bowman, the swimmer’s longtime coach, told The Associated Press on Monday that Phelps is entered in three events — the 50- and 100-meter freestyles and the 100 butterfly.
“I think he’s just going to test the waters a little bit and see how it goes,” Bowman said by phone from Baltimore. “I wouldn’t say it’s a full-fledged comeback.”
Already the most decorated Olympian of all time, Phelps rejoined the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s drug testing program last November offering the first hint that he was considering a return to the pool in a bid for more Olympic gold.
However, it is still unclear whether Phelps will compete in the U.S. national championship if he qualifies. According to Bowman, Phelps is “pretty far” from being back in top form, so he’s been training Monday through Friday with Bowman’s team at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.
“He’s gotten back into good shape since September,” the coach said. “He can give a good effort and certainly not be embarrassed. He’s in enough shape to swim competitively.”
Although, he had repeatedly said before the London Games he would not contemplate a comeback and consider a return to compete at what would be his fifth Olympics in Rio.
On retiring, he said: “I don’t want to swim after I turn 30 and that is in three years and I don’t want to swim for another three years. I would be past 30 by the time the next Olympics. I have achieved what I wanted to achieve, Bob (coach Bob Bowman) and I have somehow been able to do every single thing.
“If you can say that about your career then it’s time to move forward, time to move on to other things. I finished my career how I wanted to.”
Besides Phelps, USA Swimming said Olympians Ryan Lochte and Katie Ledecky are among those expected to swim in the Arena Grand Prix at Skyline Aquatic Center. Olympian Jessica Hardy, who will also compete in Mesa, said many swimmers were surprised by news of Phelps’ comeback.
“He kept it pretty much under wraps,” she told the AP. “Even if he’s not at peak performance, it’s great for the sport and each athlete particularly to keep learning from him. I don’t think anyone wants to put pressure on him. He’s accomplished everything you pretty much can. It’s just great to see what else you can do.”
The Arena Grand Prix in Mesa is the fourth stop of USA Swimming’s 2013-14 Arena Grand Prix Series, which provides the nation’s best swimmers six opportunities to face top-flight competition on U.S. soil, says ABC.