For the first time, Michael Phelps looked as though he was pushing toward the London Olympics.
The 14-time Olympic gold medalist from Baltimore posted the fastest times in the world this year in both of his events Thursday at the Indianapolis Grand Prix. He won the 200-meter freestyle in 1 minute, 46.27seconds, and the 100 butterfly in 51.75 seconds at the Indiana University Natatorium.
"We really just want to get him back to the top level, or near the top level, and it's good to be back," his coach, Bob Bowman, said. "Finally, he's in the game. Now, we can kind of worry about the other stuff."
Phelps improved on his disappointing performance in January at the Austin Grand Prix. In that meet, he was relegated to the consolation final in the 200 free, where he finished in 1:49.90. He bettered that time in prelims Thursday and was pleased with his finals mark, which was better than his goal of 1:47.
"It kind of surprised me a little bit," he said. "The No. 1 time in the world, I'll take it."
Ryan Lochte, who won the 200 free in Austin, finished fourth in 1:49.41.
Phelps trained in Colorado Springs, Colo., for several weeks before traveling to Indianapolis.
"I'm in a lot better shape than I was a month and a half ago, that's for sure," he said. "Right now, I'm a lot more consistent. It's making gradual steps back to where I should be."
Bowman said Phelps made strides in both events.
"I really liked his stroke in freestyle," he said. "It's the first time it's been like his normal stroke in a while. And his 100 fly was great. The good news is, it's the top time in the world by quite a bit, and he can do better."
Phelps, the world-record holder in the 100 fly, felt he could have performed even better.
"The only thing I'm upset about in the fly was my finish," he said. "I try not to have finishes like that because I know how important they are. If there's a time to have a bad finish like that, it's here because I know there's some things I can change here. For the most part, I know I'm heading in the right direction."
On the women's side, Katie Hoff, formerly of Towson, won the 200 free, Jessica Hardy won the 100 breaststroke, Dana Vollmer won the 100 fly and Julia Smit won the 400 individual medley.
Lochte and Phelps didn't go head-to-head in the 100 fly because Lochte failed to reach the final. He finished fourth in the consolation heat with a time of 53.92 seconds.
Phelps is expected to swim Friday in the 200 butterfly, an event in which he holds the world record.
Phelps is scheduled to compete against Lochte twice Saturday: in a 200 IM rematch and in the 100 freestyle. Lochte, the world's most dominant swimmer in 2010, said he doesn't worry about competing with Phelps.
"I honestly don't care what he does," he said. "He could swim the exact same events as me, and it doesn't matter. If he does more, I'd be happy because I love racing against him. I'm worried about myself."
Lochte said his times seem slow because of an adjustment in his training toward more weightlifting and less swimming. He also hasn't shaved and didn't taper before the event. He said in time, his marks should be better than ever.
"As I get older, there's less focus on swimming and more focus on the little things outside of the pool," he said. "My coach says this is the best he's seen me in the past four years."
Phelps has been more focused as he prepares for the world championships in Shanghai, China, in July.
"This year is a big year for me," he said. "Coming out of the world championships, we'll be one year away from the Olympic games. I really want to be able to have a program set by the end of this summer that I'm confident with going into the [Olympic] trials."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun