A year before the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Michael Phelps made a statement by blowing away expectations at the US Nationals.
Phelps was suspended from last week’s FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia after pleading guilty to a DUI last December. But while he wasn’t able to compete against the best in the world, he still got their attention at a secondary meet on the other side of the planet.
Swimming at the US Nationals in Texas, Phelps won the 200m individual medley in 1 minute, 54.75 seconds, which was faster than the time that won gold at the World Championships and the fastest time in the world this year. He also posted 2015’s fastest times in the 100m and 200m butterfly, and he did it in wake of some serious trash talk from 23-year-old South African swimmer Chad Le Clos.
After Phelps won the 200m fly with the fastest time in six years on Friday, Le Clos slammed him in an interview with Paul Newberry of the Associated Press.
“I’m just very happy that he’s back to his good form, so he can’t come out and say, ‘Oh, I haven’t been training’ or all that rubbish that he’s been talking,” he said. “Next year is going to be Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier.”
He added the Phelps only swam such a good time because it was against weak competition.
“Look, I don’t want to say it’s easy to swim by yourself, but it’s a lot harder when you know Chad le Clos is coming back at you the last 50 meters,” he said. “That’s what he’s got to think about really.”
Le Clos’ dad, Bert Le Clos, even got in on things after his son won the 100m butterfly with a 2015 world-best time at the World Championships. He told the AP, “I don’t care about his times, because I know my son is going to beat him.”
On Saturday, Phelps responded by besting the mark Le Clos set a day earlier. In the 100m butterfly at US nationals he posted a 50.45 seconds — which was .11 seconds faster than the time Le Clos swam to win gold in Russia.
After the race, he high-roaded the South African. He told SwimSwam:
“I saw the times. I saw the comments. There are a lot of things I could say but I won’t. I let what I do in the pool do all of my talking and that’s how I’ve always done things. From a standpoint of what anybody else says, that’s their own business. You can keep saying anything, I don’t mind it, but you won’t get a rise out of me.”
Phelps was originally going to retire after the 2012 London Olympics, but decided to make a comeback in 2014. After some encouraging times at a comeback meet in April, Phelps announced himself as a legitimate gold medal favourite with his times this weekend.
Even his coach, Bob Bowman, was surprised by the times.
“It probably does change what I thought might be possible in a year,” Bowman told SwimSwam.
Phelps says he has quit drinking until after Rio 2016 and is training the way he trained before the Beijing and London games. For the rest of the swimming world, Phelps being dedicated to the sport and already posting world-best times with 12 months to go is a terrifying proposition.
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