The long and arduous journey toward the 2012 Olympics in London is starting to take shape for swimmer Michael Phelps.
After competing in the Charlotte (N.C.) UltraSwim last week, Phelps has decided to enter the Paris Open on June26-27, marking the first time he has competed in France in nearly a decade.
Organizers confirmed on their website that the 14-time Olympic gold medalist from Baltimore has entered the meet, which will also include two-time world champion Cesar Cielo of Brazil and Olympic 100-meter champion Alain Bernard of France.
From there, Phelps is expected to compete in the U.S. Nationals on Aug. 3-7, in Irvine, Calif., and then the Pan Pacific Championships in the same pool Aug. 18-23.
The Pan Pacs pits the top swimmers from the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia against one another, and it is probably regarded as the most important event on Phelps' pre-Olympic schedule outside the 2011 Fina World Aquatics Championships in China next year.
Phelps told reporters he is headed to Colorado Springs, Colo., for a month of intense training before the Paris Open. Phelps' last trip to France came in 2001, when he swam in a short-course World Cup meet.
According to L'Equipe, the French nationwide daily newspaper devoted to sports, Phelps will be paid euro100,000 ($126,000) for competing.
His competitive swims recently have been something of a mixed bag, which isn't unexpected in a year without the Olympics or the world championships. In December 2009, he swam in a local meet in Annapolis and expressed frustration after with his level of fitness.
In Charlotte, after the second-place finish in the 100 back, he acknowledged that he has plenty of things he still needs to work on.
"Going into the wall, I was a little slow, and the last 20 meters I felt like I could barely move," Phelps said. "I felt like I was standing still. So there's some conditioning I need to fix, but hopefully by the end of the year I'll be where I want to be."
He holds the record for most gold medals won in a single Olympic games (eight in Beijing in 2008) and has 14 Olympic golds and two bronzes overall.