Michael Phelps' comeback inched closer to reality Tuesday when his longtime coach said the record-setting Olympian could swim in a meet "sometime soon."
"He looks like he is definitely in shape," Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, said.
Though Phelps has been non-committal about a return to swimming, he stirred speculation last year when he rejoined the drug-testing pool for international competition. He has also worked out regularly at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club in recent months.
Phelps, 28, has completed the required nine-month waiting period since he re-entered drug testing. So he's eligible to compete anytime.
A spokesman for the swimmer did not reply to a message seeking comment Tuesday.
Phelps retired after the 2012 Olympics in London, where he pushed his record totals to 18 gold medals and 22 medals overall.
For his first year away from the pool, the Rodgers Forge native relaxed, played golf and traveled the world as a spokesman for several sponsors and his own swimming-related ventures. But he resumed periodic training last summer, even as he and Bowman hedged on his desire to compete.
In November, Bowman said Phelps was "just keeping his options open" by rejoining the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency testing pool.
It's still not clear whether Phelps will aim for the U.S. championships in Irvine, Calif., this August or next year's world championships in Russia.
"If he swims a meet in the next couple months and does well, he will probably give it a shot in Irvine," Bowman said.
But he added that Phelps could target the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro without swimming in either of those meets. He said Phelps is likely to focus on shorter events such as the 100-meter butterfly, which he has dominated throughout his career, and the 100-meter freestyle, which he has never swum in the Olympics.
The next two U.S. Grand Prix events are April 24-26 in Mesa, Ariz. and May 15-18 in Charlotte, N.C.
Philip Hersh is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.