Newspaper article International New York Times

In Return to the Pool, Phelps Talks about Fun ; Olympic Champion Says He Missed Competition and Team Camaraderie

Newspaper article International New York Times

In Return to the Pool, Phelps Talks about Fun ; Olympic Champion Says He Missed Competition and Team Camaraderie

Article excerpt

The most-decorated swimmer in history, Michael Phelps, said he missed the competition and the team camaraderie while away from the sport.

Around noon, the teenage swimming prodigy Michael Andrew met Michael Phelps, many of whose national age-group records Andrew has broken. After shaking Phelps's hand and hearing Phelps say, "Nice to meet you," Andrew walked away beaming. "That was pretty cool," he said.

Andrew, who just turned 15, is in the vanguard of the next wave of USA Swimming, the generation inspired by Phelps's Olympian feats. Phelps, 28, retired after the London Olympics, before Andrew competed in his first senior national-caliber competition.

Because he is relatively new to the senior-national swimming scene, Andrew has never raced against Phelps. To his delight, he was to get that opportunity Thursday at the Mesa Grand Prix. Andrew -- who last weekend broke the boys' 13-14 national age-group record in the 100-yard butterfly that was once held by Phelps -- is seeded 19th in the 100-meter butterfly, the first official race of Phelps's competitive return to the sport.

Phelps was seeded first in the event, in which he is the three- time defending Olympic champion. He was one spot ahead of Ryan Lochte, his longtime rival and friend. In addition to the 100 butterfly, Phelps's first competitive race in 628 days, he will also test his speed Friday by swimming the 50-meter freestyle.

"It's such an honor to swim in a meet with him," Andrew said. Laughing, he added, "Now I just have to beat him."

A few minutes after meeting Andrew on Wednesday, Phelps slipped into the competition pool for an hourlong practice.

Outwardly, Phelps appeared unchanged. He is within seven pounds of his 2012 racing weight of 187. Upon closer inspection, a few differences were apparent.

Phelps wore an Arena training suit, not the Speedo brand that he endorsed throughout his career, most notably in 2008 in Beijing when he won a record eight gold medals to surpass Mark Spitz as the most- decorated athlete in a single Olympics. …

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