Michael Phelps is set to return to competitive swimming later this month.
The 22-time Olympic medalist plans to swim in the Arena Grand Prix in Mesa, Ariz., from April 24-26.
Phelps will swim the 50- and 100-meter freestyles and 100 butterfly, according to his agent, Drew Johnson.
It’ll be the Maryland native’s first competition since he won six medals (four gold) at the 2012 London Games to become the most decorated Olympian ever.
Is it the next step toward him swimming in the 2016 Rio Olympics?
“We have discussed a long-term plan in general terms, but until he swims in a meet we’re not going to know,” Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman told the Chicago Tribune. “Will he be eighth? Second? Sixteenth?
“I think he certainly won’t be embarrassed swimming in the meet, and I think he will be competitive. The difference is he is doing half the training he used to.”
Phelps was said to be done with competitive swimming after capping the 2012 Olympics with gold in the 400-meter medley relay.
“Through the ups and down of my career, I’ve been able to do everything I’ve wanted to accomplish,” he said that day in August 2012. “I’ve been able to do things that nobody has ever done, and that’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Since his retirement, rumors of a Phelps return before the 2016 Games have swirled several times.
Bowman said March 25 that the swimmer was likely going to get into a meet “sometime soon.”
Bowman said then that it was “too early to tell” whether Phelps, 28, would try to earn a place on the U.S. team for the 2015 World Championships. The 2014 U.S. Championships this August in Irvine, Calif. is the selection meet for the 2015 world team.
“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 doesn’t have to do that to have a shot at the 2016 Olympics.”
Monday’s news drew excitement in the swimming community.
“I’m overjoyed,” said Rowdy Gaines a former swimmer and an analyst for NBC’s Olympic coverage. “He has changed our sport more than anyone in history. He’s our Babe Ruth, our Michael Jordan. When Michael comes back, it’s like when Jordan came back. It can only help our sport to grow because the growth we’ve had in the last 14 years is because of Michael.”
Phelps was in the broadcast booth with Gaines at last year’s world championships in Barcelona, and Gaines said he had a sense then that Phelps would be back in the pool.
“I could see the anger and the helplessness he felt when the USA lost (the 400 freestyle relay),” Gaines said. “The moment I saw his face, I knew he’d be back. He knows he can help.”