Michael Phelps submits to drug testing in possible signal he'll return to the pool

  • After months of hints and half-denials, Michael Phelps has re-entered the drug testing pool for international competition
  • It's the strongest signal yet that he's planning a return to swimming
  • Phelps has won a record 22 Olympic medals, including 18 golds
  • The swimmer has not announced a comeback for Rio but joined the U.S. drug-testing program
  • Champion has been working out with his former coach Bob Bowman

By Daily Mail Reporter

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Michael Phelps still can't bring himself to utter the word 'comeback.'

Yet all signs point to the world's greatest swimmer returning to the pool for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In the strongest signal yet that his retirement won't last much longer, Phelps has rejoined the U.S. drug testing program — a necessary step for any athlete hoping to compete in an Olympic sport.

Return? One of the most successful Olympians ever could be ready to come out of retirement

Return? One of the most successful Olympians ever could be ready to come out of retirement

'I have no idea what's going to happen,' Phelps told The Associated Press in an exclusive telephone interview from Minneapolis, where he was attending an Arena Grand Prix meet and even got in some impromptu training in the diving well. 'If I really do start getting excited and wanting to do it, I can make that choice. If not, at least it's something we can say we prepared for.'

 

Phelps said he's merely giving himself the option of competing again and stressed that 'nothing is set in stone.' But the doping program is a major inconvenience, requiring him to be available for random testing and keep officials apprised of his whereabouts.

Powerhouse: Phelps won 18 gold medals in his peerless career in the pool

Powerhouse: Phelps won 18 gold medals in his peerless career in the pool

'It is a challenging thing to do,' he said. 'We are covering all the bases just in case.'

Phelps has won the most and is indeed the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. He captured 18 gold medals and 22 medals overall at the last three Summer Games, shattering the previous marks. He is best known for breaking Mark Spitz's record for a single Olympics by winning eight gold medals at Beijing in 2008.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said Phelps was among the athletes who underwent doping tests in the third quarter, the period ending Sept. 30. He was tested twice.

His longtime coach and close friend, Bob Bowman, said Phelps actually re-entered the doping program near the end of the second quarter, but he wasn't tested and therefore wasn't listed in that USADA report. He would be eligible to compete again in March, according to Bowman.

'I just think he's in a place where he's feeling good about swimming,' Bowman said. 'If he chooses to compete, he's got some time. I like having the ability to do it. To be perfectly honest, he's not anywhere near being able to compete in a meet or anything like that. We're just getting started on improving his fitness. We'll see where that goes.'

Powerhouse: Phelps won 18 gold medals in his peerless career in the pool

Powerhouse: Phelps won 18 gold medals in his peerless career in the pool

Phelps has been training with Bowman's team at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. Each week, he's been working a couple of days in the pool, a couple of days in the weight room, and one or two days on his core training. He has lost about 15 pounds and is back in the low 190s, not far off his competition weight.

'If I decide to keep going and swim again, then I'll compete,' he said. 'If I don't,' he added, letting out a big laugh, 'I guess I'll re-retire. Just don't compare me to Brett Favre.'

A possible comeback by the 22-time Olympic medallist has been mooted for a good year with fellow American Ryan Lochte vocal for some time that his friend and rival would return to the pool.

That would appear now to be the case with the Baltimore swimmer having already undergone two doping tests.

By subjecting himself to drug testing, the 28-year-old Phelps has given himself plenty of time to go through an entire season before the next major meet, the 2015 world championships in Russia, an important steppingstone to the Rio Games the following summer. FINA, the world governing body for swimming, requires an athlete to be tested for at least nine months before taking part in sanctioned events.

USADA said Phelps was among the athletes who underwent doping tests in the period ending September 30.

It means the 28-year-old will be eligible to compete in the trials for the World Championships in Kazan in 2015.

'There's no grand scheme,' Bowman said. 'It just sort of makes sense that he can make some choices if he wants to.'

No 1: But can Phelps be on top of the world again in Brazil in 2016

No 1: But can Phelps be on top of the world again in Brazil in 2016

Phelps attended the world championships in Barcelona this past summer, but he seemed even more pumped about being on hand for one of the more mundane events that fall between the Olympic years.

'Just being around this is exciting for me,' he said from Minneapolis. 'It really has been a part of my life ever since I was a kid.'

Phelps' return would surely be welcomed by the entire sport and even those who only follow swimming during the Olympics.

'I think it would be great for the sport,' said Conor Dwyer, a relay gold medalist at the London Games who trains with Phelps at North Baltimore. 'He elevated it so much before that I think it can only get bigger with him in it. Obviously he's the greatest swimmer of all time — doubled everyone's medal counts — so to have him on your relay only helps the USA win more golds.'

At the World Championships in Barcelona last summer when asked of a comeback, Phelps said: 'If anybody would know about me coming back it would be myself and I haven't said one thing to anybody about anything.

'But I am here watching it, enjoying myself.

'I enjoying playing golf, I enjoy getting up at noon- it's a good life.'

While apparently exasperated by such questions, it seems Phelps was already looking ahead.

A possible rematch with Chad Le Clos is intriguing, the South African who had pictures of Phelps on his wall as a child before taking his 200 metres butterfly crown in London.

Possibly this is one of Phelps' motivations.

New king in town: Chad Le Clos took Phelps' 200m butterfly crown in London 2012

New king in town: Chad Le Clos took Phelps' 200m butterfly crown in London 2012

Phelps' appeal goes far beyond the pool deck. His recognition factor has often matched athletes from far more prominent sports, such as NBA star LeBron James, a truly impressive accomplishment for a swimmer.

Phelps retired after winning six more medals at last summer's London Olympics, adamant that all his goals were met and he had no desire to still be swimming in his 30s. He will be 31 by the time of the opening ceremony for the Rio Games — not that old, really, for today's elite swimmers. One of his top rivals, Ryan Lochte, is a year older and has every intention of competing through the next Olympics.

If there is a comeback, Phelps wouldn't be doing it for the money, having earned tens of millions of dollars in endorsements during his career. He remains a marketable name, even in retirement, though his endorsement potential certainly goes up if he's in the water.

More likely, this is another case of an athlete who simply missed the thrill of competition and is still young enough to do something about it, assuming he can find the motivation to endure Bowman's grueling regimen for nearly three more years.

'There are a lot of things that really excite me ... that get me motivated,' Phelps said. 'But I swam for 20 years. That's something that's going to be very, very hard to top.'

The comments below have not been moderated.

Crap, outta money already?

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FYI genius, he makes his money OUT of the pool not in it. Look how much Jordan and Tiger make away from the court and course.

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He is one silly looking dude.

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He's handsome compared to what I've seen trodding your ground.

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