IRVINE, Calif. — If this year's Phillips 66 National Championships hold any enduring place in Michael Phelps' mind, he might remember them as a needed, albeit painful, slug of reality.
Until the past week, Phelps had treated his four-month comeback as something of a lark, working out when he wished and recapturing his past brilliance in fleeting bursts. He'd said he was happy simply getting back in the pool.
But in truth, Phelps' love of swimming and his fierce need for victory always have been inextricably linked. And at the nationals, he learned his half-in approach isn't good enough to fend off daily competition from this country's best.