Phoenix - Olympic legend Michael Phelps beat his longtime rival Ryan Lochte in
his return from a six month ban and found out he could get a special
invitation to the world championships.
The 29-year-old Phelps, suspended by USA Swimming after a
drunk-driving arrest in September, won the 100m butterfly at the Mesa
Pro Series meeting in Phoenix on Thursday as he targets a place at the
Rio de Janeiro Olympics next year.
The winner of a record 18 Olympic gold medals clocked 52.38 to
beat Lochte by 0.33 seconds and said he was just happy to be competing again
after the controversy.
"It does feel good to be back," said Phelps, who last competed at the Pan Pacific Championships in August.
Phelps was excluded from the US team for the world championships in Kazan, Russia in July after his ban.
But world body FINA said it wanted to give him a special invitation to the event.
"FINA has proposed inviting Michael Phelps as a special guest because
of his exceptional sporting career," the federation's executive
director Cornel Marculescu said.
"USA Swimming is responsible for entering its athletes for the world
championships and we have not spoken with them," the official added.
"This is news to me," Phelps said when told of the plan. "I'm here to
swim here right now, and that's what I'm focused on. I don't know what
to expect in the future."
Earlier this week, Phelps said missing the world championships would
be "painful" but he did not want to cost another American a place on the
Fans in Mesa were less raucous than the crowds who cheered Phelps
last year when he returned from a nearly two-year retirement at the same
But there was plenty of support for Phelps as he strode to the blocks
in one of the new Xpresso racing suits that he helped design.
"It's amazing just to be in this environment again," said Phelps, whose arrest in Baltimore was followed by a stint in rehab.
Phelps's time on Thursday night did not put him in the top 10 in the
world this year in the 100m fly, an event he has won at three Olympics.
But he and coach Bob Bowman said the time was a good starting point from which to build as he eyes a fifth Olympics next year.
"First race back, it's OK," Phelps said. "Hopefully we'll be able to build and build.
"I think the more I race and feel confident with it, we can go out
and control things," he added, noting that he had only swum a handful of
long course meets since returning to competition a year ago.
Phelps entered five events this week, with the 100m backstroke and
400m freestyle remaining for him on Friday and the 200m individual
medley on Saturday.
In other races, American freestyle star Katie Ledecky and Hungarian
Katinka Hosszu - FINA's 2014 female Swimmer of the Year - clashed
Ledecky won the 200m freestyle in 1:56.79 with Hosszu second in 1:57.51.
Hosszu responded with a dominant victory in the 400m individual medley.
Hosszu clocked 4:36.77 to beat American Caitlin Leverenz (4:40.29) by more than three seconds.
Venezuela's Carlos Claverie captured a narrow victory in the men's
100m breaststroke, finishing in 1:02.42 to hold off Syrian Azad