New York: Michael Phelps, the 18-time Olympic swim champion who agreed not to compete at this year's World Championships, could be reinstated for the meet by USA Swimming, ESPN reported on Tuesday.
USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus told the US-based sports television network's website that he has had informal, preliminary conversations with Phelps about possibly competing in the world meet at Kazan, Russia, from July 24 to August 9.
"It's complicated, but there are ways in which it could happen," Wielgus told ESPN. "There's a pathway for things to be reconsidered -- or considered." Phelps, 29, is currently serving a six-month suspension after a drink driving violation last September in Baltimore. His punishment was the ban, which ends early next month, and his agreeing not to compete at the worlds.
Wielgus said any decision on reinstating Phelps would be reviewed by national team director Frank Busch and USA Swimming's executive committee. "At this point, it's premature to discuss any specifics about next steps," USA Swimming spokesman Scott Leightman told ESPN. Phelps won a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and retired after the 2012 London Olympics with a career record 22 Olympic medals, only to make a comeback last year.
While playing coy about his plans for more Olympic success at next year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the worlds is the final major global competition ahead of the Rio swim showdown and a pivotal place for Phelps to test himself against potential Olympic foes.
Phelps has made plans to compete for the first time after his ban ends at a meet in Mesa, Arizona, from April 15-18. US swimmer Tyler Clary said Phelps has been punished enough without taking away a chance to perform at worlds. "USA Swimming's six-month suspension was appropriate and strong enough to convey that USA Swimming doesn't condone that kind of behavior from any of its members," Clary told ESPN.
"Removing Michael from the World Championship team, however, will have a negative effect on our team and taking the term of his punishment into consideration, the meet falls well outside of that timeframe." US Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin told ESPN in an e-mail that preventing Phelps from swimming at worlds was "overreaching."
"Not only do World Championships fall outside the six-month suspension, but it also punishes his teammates, particularly those that would share a relay spot with him," Coughlin wrote. "We always want to have the best people racing, and he has proven himself to be the best, time after time."
Phelps qualified for worlds in the 100-meter freestyle, 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley and likely would be a stalwart on US relays. Since his arrest, Phelps has completed an inpatient rehabilitation program.
He was sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation without alcohol after pleading guilty last December to drink driving and related charges. Phelps, who has been training in his hometown Baltimore-area swim club, announced last month his engagement to Nicole Johnson, a former Miss California.