MESA, Ariz. -- Any visions of Michael Phelps adding to his record 22 Olympic medals will have to wait.
Phelps, speaking publicly Wednesday for the first time since announcing his return to the pool, didn’t specifically rule out the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, but he insisted his motivations were not rooted in competing at a fifth Olympic Games.
“I’m doing this because I want to,” he said. “Nobody is forcing me to do this, or that. I just want to get back in the pool and see where things go.”
That journey starts Thursday at the Arena Grand Prix at Mesa. Phelps plans to swim the 100-meter butterfly on Thursday and the 50 freestyle on Friday.
“I kind of held off about getting back into competitions,” said Phelps, who scratched plans to also swim the 100 free on Thursday. “I put one foot in and wasn’t really ready. But at one point I decided I was ready.”
Rumors of a return began to pick up steam last September, when the United States Anti-Doping Agency announced that Phelps had rejoined the testing pool, making him eligible to compete in sanctioned events by spring 2014. Even after reports came out that Phelps had been training with longtime coach Bob Bowman, the swimmer continued to deny that he would return to competition.
That finally ended last week when a USA Swimming press release announced Phelps was “expected” to compete in Mesa.
Phelps said Wednesday that the return just felt right.
“Being able to do nothing for about a year and a half — I traveled, I played golf and I gained 30 pounds. I had a lot of fun,” Phelps said. “But there was something that I missed. Being able to go to the pool and be back in Baltimore and swim in the group I’m with now, it’s incredible.”
Phelps admitted that the first step of his comeback was getting back into racing shape. After weighing as much as 225 pounds during his 628-day retirement, Phelps said he is down to 194 pounds this week.
“After gaining 25 or 30 pounds, I’m just trying to see what kind of weight I can get to and how I feel, and take it from there,” said Phelps, who swam at 187 pounds in London. “Yes, I have expectations for myself, but I’m not going to go into them right now.”
When asked if he thinks an unsuccessful comeback would tarnish the legacy he has built, Phelps didn’t seem concerned.
“I said this before: I’m doing this for me,” he said. “If I don’t become as successful, or my comeback isn’t as successful as you all think it should be, then that’s your own opinion. I’m doing this because I want to come back. I am enjoying being back in the pool, and I’m enjoying being back in the sport of swimming.”
Phelps will continue to train with Bowman at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. The two have trained together through his entire Olympic career, and Phelps said they’ve been working closely together once again during his comeback.
“I think Bob and I can do anything we put our minds to, and I’m looking forward to wherever this road takes me,” Phelps said. “I guess the journey starts tomorrow.”
Clayton Klapper is a writer based in Arizona. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.