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Phelps loses to Lochte in comeback meet

Michael Phelps competes in the 100-metre butterfly final.

Uses 50 free to perfect his butterfly

Michael Phelps finished a close second to Ryan Lochte in the 100 metres butterfly in his first race in two years and rounded off his comeback with a relaxed showing in his heat in the 50m freestyle to practice his butterfly stroke.

MESA, Arizona — A relaxed Michael Phelps was smiling after swimming his first final since the 2012 London Olympics, even though he lost in the 100 butterfly to longtime rival and friend Ryan Lochte.

Lochte touched first in 51.93 seconds, second-fastest in the world this year. Phelps was second in 52.13, fourth-quickest in the world. He lowered his time of 52.84 from the morning heats.

Lochte beat him to the first turn and Phelps said “that may have been the worst turn that I have ever done in my entire life.”

It didn’t matter to the sellout crowd of 1,200, which loudly cheered Phelps.

“Everyone is happy that he’s back in the water,” Lochte said. “It’s good for the sport.”

After his loss to Lotche, Phelps competed in the second event of his comeback and failed to advance to the 50-metre freestyle final.

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

Phelps finished 42nd overall, shutting him out of any of the three consolation finals, which involve the top 32 qualifiers.

“I was just kind of literally getting my feet wet again,” he said. “This is one meet, it’s one race. It’s a long way from whether I decide to continue or not, but this was awesome. I’m really excited about how things went and I do know what I need to do if I want to continue and want to swim faster and obviously I like swimming faster and faster every race.”

Phelps will head to high-altitude training in Colorado next month.

Natalie Coughlin took her own extended break after the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She returned to earn a relay bronze medal in London and at 31 is making a push toward the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. Phelps turns 29 in June.

“When he started talking about coming back, I thought it was so good for him,” she said. “He’s so young and he’s enjoying it, so why not?”

Phelps’ times were easily good enough to surpass the qualifying standard of 54.79 for the US championships in August. That meet will decide the team for next year’s world and Pan Pacific championships.

But he’s not rushing to commit to anything.

“I’m not saying yes or no yet,” he said. “I’m not putting any pressure on myself to say I’m doing this or doing that in the future. I’m just enjoying myself right now.”

AP, Reuters

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