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Updated Apr 25, 2014 - 2:24 pm

Michael Phelps falls short of finals in 50-meter free in Mesa

MESA, Ariz. — Michael Phelps’ comeback meet was cut short Friday when he
failed to advance to the 50-meter freestyle final.

The 18-time Olympic gold medalist used the morning preliminaries at the Arena
Grand Prix to fine-tune his butterfly stroke instead of doing freestyle like
everyone else. He finished seventh in a time of 24.06 seconds, missing out on
the eight-man evening final.

Phelps didn’t even make any of the three consolation finals because he was 42nd
overall; only the top 32 qualify for those, so his first competition since
retiring after the 2012 London Olympics ended early.

“I don’t think there will be enough scratches,” coach Bob Bowman joked about
the possibility of Phelps getting into any of the finals.

Phelps ended up in the sprint because none of the day’s other events — 400
individual medley, 200 freestyle and 200 backstroke — are ones that he plans to
compete in during this comeback. He dominated the 400 IM during the height of
career, but he vows he won’t swim the grueling event anymore.

“I’m putting that out there: I am never swimming the 400 IM again,” he said.

Bowman jabbed him, saying, “Kind of like, `I will never swim again.’ ”

At that, the longtime friends laughed.

Phelps had insisted he was done with swimming after London and frequently
pointed out he had no intention of swimming past the age of 30. He turns 29 next
month, and would be 31 by the time of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Phelps tread lightly when pressed about his intentions toward a possible fifth
Olympics. He was 15 at his first games in Sydney in 2000, when he was the
youngest member of the entire U.S. team. He didn’t medal, but went on to haul in
22 medals over his next four games, including a record eight gold in 2008.

He repeatedly emphasized he’s having fun this time around and feels more
relaxed than ever.

“I felt like a kid and that was the coolest part about it,” he said. “It’s a
good starting point, being able to get some races back under my belt.”

Phelps’ goal Friday was to take just three breaths in the one-lap race; easy
enough for a sprinter but not for a swimmer who specialized in distances ranging
from 200 to 400 meters during his career.

“It’s weird for me not to breathe,” he said. “I’m used to breathing every
single stroke.”

He gulped air every second or third stroke, and halfway through he took two
consecutive breaths.

“As soon as I did that, I was like, `Man, I wonder if I can hold my breath the
whole way,” he said. “I was like, `No, I don’t think so, so I snuck one more
at 15.”

Afterward, Bowman told him, “You don’t really know how to swim a 50.”

Phelps replied, “I guess that’s a good thing.”

He finished second to Ryan Lochte in the 100 butterfly on Thursday, tying the
fourth-fastest time in the world this year.

Next up for Phelps is high-altitude training in Colorado next month. He’s
entered in Grand Prix meets in North Carolina and California, although his
presence hasn’t been confirmed yet.

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