GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) - Michael Phelps got a confronting reminder of just how challenging his return to international competition may be when he was asked whether he was good enough to even reach a final at the Pan Pacific Championships this week.
"Wow, you're really setting the bar high for me!" the most decorated swimmer of all time joked in reply.
Sitting beside him at a news conference Wednesday, Phelps' long-time coach Bob Bowman chipped in: "Reality check there."
The Pan Pacs start Thursday and run through the weekend. It's stage two of Phelps' comeback from retirement - the first was qualifying for the U.S. team. Now Bowman is predicting Phelps will lower his best times in his butterfly, medley and freestyle, saying the challenge of going faster was the only reason the 18-time Olympic champion came back to the sport.
Phelps qualified by finishing second in the 200-meter medley and the 100 butterfly at the U.S. nationals, and will be swimming in his first international meet since coming out of retirement four months ago with the aim of competing again at the world titles and Olympics.
Only the top two swimmers from each country qualify for the finals, so Phelps is going to be under pressure from his American teammates in the morning preliminaries, and from the best swimmers from Australia, Japan, Canada, Brazil and other Pacific countries in the evening finals. He'll start with the 100 freestyle on Friday, which will feature seven Americans in the heats. He'll also contest the 100 butterfly, the 200 medley and potentially some relays.
Phelps didn't win any of his four events at the U.S. nationals, although his times in the 200 IM and the butterfly were both among the fastest three in the world this year. He was unhappy with his freestyle, where his finish let him down. He said it was the kind of mistake an 11-year-old would make.
Phelps, who won eight of his 18 Olympic gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, said he was "kind of rusty on judging the speed going into my walls," and described his turns as "awful."