San Antonio: Michael Phelps, coming off a sensational 200m butterfly triumph at the US swimming championships, eased into the final of the 100m fly on Saturday in a sedate 52.12sec. "Kind of blah," was Phelps's assessment after he won his heat in the second-fastest time of the morning, behind Jack Conger's 51.97.
But then, almost anything would be a comedown from his 1min 52.94sec 200m fly performance 14 hours earlier -- a swim Phelps called "close to probably my best 200 fly ever." It was the fastest in the world this year -- eclipsing the 1:53.48 posted by Laszlo Cseh in winning the world title in Kazan, Russia, this week.
It was faster than the 1:52.96 South Africa's Chad Le Clos swam to beat Phelps at the London Olympics. Phelps, who set the world record of 1:51.51 in 2009, admitted he was still feeling the effects. "I was a little slow getting up this morning, hurt a little bit," said the 18-time Olympic gold medallist who turned 30 this year.
"I got to sleep pretty good," added Phelps, but he said he needs to relearn the emotional focus that helped cope with the highs and lows of competition and capture eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games. "A big thing I have to focus on is being able to control physical and emotional energy," he said.
"I haven't had a good swim like that since '09. A lot of different emotions came up after that. I need to re-teach myself how to handle those." To help him focus for the 100m final, Phelps had only to look to Kazan, where less than an hour after his heat in San Antonio Le Clos clocked 50.56 to win the 100m fly world title ahead of Cseh (50.87) and Singapore's Joseph Schooling (50.96).
Phelps lost his world championships ticket because of his drunk-driving arrest in September. Swimming in the US meet that runs opposite the worlds, he's been keeping a keen eye on the times produced in Russia.
"I'll be able to see what they do," Phelps said, although he shied away from targetting a time. "I don't ever really like to talk about what I (plan to) do, because if I do I never end up going that fast."