May 16 (Reuters) - Michael Phelps successfully ticked off another two important boxes in his comeback to competitive swimming with a solid performance at the U.S. Grand Prix meet in Charlotte on Friday.
Competing for just the second time since retiring after the 2012 London Olympics, Phelps tested his speed and stamina by entering the 200 metres freestyle and 100m butterfly.
He finished second overall in the 100m butterfly heats in 53.26 seconds, advancing to Friday night’s A final.
His time in the 200m free was one minute 51.69 seconds, ninth fastest overall. He was promoted to eighth after Olympic champion Yannick Agnel was disqualified for a false start.
The Frenchman’s disqualification meant Phelps qualified for the A Final but his coach Bob Bowman said he was scratching from the race to concentrate on the 100m butterfly final.
“I thought Michael’s 200m free was actually pretty good for the first one in a couple of years,” Bowman told reporters after the morning heat session.
“Now we have a real picture of where he is at. I think he could definitely do better but he’s not going to swim (in Friday’s finals).”
Although Phelps’s time in the 200m freestyle was far from his best, it was quick enough to qualify in the event at this year’s U.S. National championships in California, which double as the selection event for next year’s world titles in Russia.
His best times from previous years don’t count because they happened outside the qualifying window but he has now qualified for the nationals in the 100m butterfly and 200m freestyle.
The 100m butterfly is one of two individual events that Phelps won at three successive Olympics. And if he qualifies for the event at the world championships or 2016 Rio Olympics, he will automatically make the U.S. men’s medley relay team, which has never been beaten at the Olympics.
Phelps is unlikely to swim the more gruelling 200m freestyle in individual events but could still swim in the 4x200m relay team.
“I thought technically he was pretty good,” said Bowman, who has been coy about discussing any long-term plans.
“He was much better than he’s been in training so far so he’s definitely improving in that stroke and I think as he goes along that will get a lot better.”
Phelps finished a close second in the 100m butterfly to his great rival Ryan Lochte at his comeback meet in suburban Phoenix last month but won’t have to contend with him this time after Lochte pulled out of the meet because of injury.
“His 100 fly was really good this morning so all in all, we’re pleased,” Bowman said. (Reporting by Julian Linden in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)