OMAHA, NEB. — As Michael Phelps prepares to swim his last event of Olympic Trials on Saturday night, his mind has already turned toward improving for an Olympics at which he'll face tougher competition.
Phelps will find himself in an unusual position in the 100-meter butterfly final, starting from an outside lane after he finished with only the sixth best qualifying time.
At 51.83 seconds, he was .57 seconds behind top qualifier Seth Stubblefield though in no real danger of missing the final.
Phelps had a good excuse. He'd held off Ryan Lochte to win the 200-meter individual medley less than 30 minutes earlier Friday night. And at age 31, he doesn't recover the way he once did.
"Tonight was brutal," he said Friday night in his post-race press conference. "The 100 fly hurt!"
Phelps is capable of swimming much faster in the 100 butterfly as he demonstrated last summer when he threw down a world-best time of 50.45 seconds.
But he's been notably slower at trials than he was last August, even though he's 2-for-2 in finals here. He knows his times are unlikely to get the job done at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where he'll face swimmers such as Chad le Clos of South Africa, Laszlo Cseh of Hungary and Kosuke Hagino of Japan, not to mention a potentially healthier Lochte.
Phelps made no bones about the fact he'll need to get better over the next four weeks, which will include training stints in Arizona, San Antonio and Atlanta.
"I do understand that I have to swim faster to have a chance to win the gold medal," he said. "I do know that."
Phelps said he and coach Bob Bowman will work to iron out small inefficiencies, particularly his handling of turns. And they'll also likely tweak his taper — the process by which Phelps ramps down training to rest for a big meet — after he had tired legs this week.