Michael Phelps returned to the top of a podium for the first time since the 2012 Olympics when he won the 100 metre butterfly at the Charlotte Grand Prix.
Phelps made it through a gruelling double in the morning preliminaries, also swimming the 200 freestyle, then limited himself to one race in the evening.
While he didn’t improve on the time from the first meet of his comeback, when he finished second to Ryan Lochte last month, it was another big step toward competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“It’s been a while,” he said. “It’s nice seeing the first place next to your name. It’s good to be on that side of it again. Hopefully, we can get a string of those.”
Going out strong and remaining comfortably ahead on the return leg, Phelps cruised to victory in 52.13 seconds, about a half body-length ahead of runner-up Pavel Sankovich of Belarus.
Olympic form returning
Phelps matched his time exactly from Arizona, his first meet since retiring after the London Olympics.
But this time, he did not have to contend with Lochte, who aggravated his surgically repaired knee in Arizona and was advised by his doctors to give it some rest.
The pair will have plenty of chances to race this summer. The national championships are in Southern California in August, followed later that month by the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia, which will determine the team for the 2015 world championships in Russia.
“He and I hate to lose to each other,” Phelps said. “It’s very good to get in a race with him. We do tend to really push each other to the max.”