Michael Phelps slashed more than four seconds off his season-best time in the 400-metre individual medley on Friday at the Indianapolis Grand Prix, and said he may reverse his earlier decision to skip the event at the London Olympics.
He has repeatedly sworn off the event since the Beijing Olympics, calling it the toughest and most painful event in the pool, and earlier this week didn't seem to be giving any ground on the possibility of entering the event in London.
Now things could be changing.
"It all depends on if I'm able to swim the other events,'' he said.
"If it's not going to mess up the over events, who knows? Yes, I know that's different than I said before.
"I'm going to have to be in a little better shape to add that into the program because I have to do that well and then climb back in and do all the other events well, too.''
Phelps' time of 4:12.51, was the third fastest in the world this season and far better than the 4:16.95 he posted at Austin, Texas, in January.
One day after critiquing his prized pupil's finish in the 100 butterfly and questioning Phelps' mental preparation for the morning prelims, coach Bob Bowman watched a much more Phelps-like performance. The 14-time Olympic gold medallist earned the No. 2 qualifying spot in the morning prelims, just behind Tyler Clary.
In the final, Phelps surrendered an early lead to Clary on the backstroke, but reclaimed the lead with a strong turn when the swimmers switched to breaststroke. Phelps never trailed again, though he was wearily taking breaths on every other stroke during the final 100 and finally held off Clary in the final 15 metres, winning by half a second.
It was enough to make Bowman think twice about entering the event in London.
"I wouldn't say the door is completely closed. There's probably a crack after tonight,'' Bowman said.
"But it is a great indication that he's made a lot of progress since January and he's in much better condition.''
Phelps' biggest rival, Ryan Lochte, was not as happy with his results.
After missing the finals in both of his events on Thursday, Lochte rebounded Friday. He made it into the finals of the 200 free and 200 back with good morning swims, but withdrew from the freestyle, the first of the two back-to-back events.
And despite leading at the first three turns in the backstroke, Lochte faded badly over the final 50 metres, dropping from first to fifth before being moved up to fourth when Clary was disqualified.
Lochte's time was 1:59.34, more than eight-tenths of a second behind Germany's Yannick Lebherz, the winner.
"I knew I had to go out fast, and if I want to do well, I have to learn how to go out fast and hold on,'' Lochte said.
"I'm happy with my time and I've got two more months (to train).''
Phelps and Lochte are expected to go head-to-head in Saturday's 200 IM, the biggest event of the three-day meet.
While most of the attention of the meet has been focused on the world's two best swimmers, Friday's most intriguing race was the women's 200 free.
Four Olympic hopefuls - Allison Schmitt, Missy Franklin, Katie Hoff and Dana Vollmer - lined up next to one another in the middle of the pool. The 21-year-old Schmitt pulled away in the final 50, beating Franklin to the wall in 1:56.79. Franklin finished in 1:57.97 with Vollmer third and Hoff fourth.
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