Maybe, Michael Phelps isn’t finished swimming the 400 IM after all.
Certainly not if his mother has a say in the new discussion.
The Baltimore native slashed more than four seconds off his season-best time Friday and held off a late charge form Tyler Clary to win his second race in two days at the Indianapolis Grand Prix. Beside, could he really disappoint mom?
"My mom was probably happy to watch this race tonight," Phelps said with a wide grin. "She always says it’s her favorite race to watch me."
Earlier in the day, Phelps’ mother and sister lamented the possibility that it could be the final 400 IM of his career.
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 at this summer’s Olympics.
Now things could be changing.
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. And, Phelps said, it was the first time he ever cracked 4:13 while doing the brutal in-season workouts that force swimmers to usually compete in a continual state of fatigue. So the event has not been ruled out of the Olympic equation.
"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."
Coach Bob Bowman also opened the door to the possibility.
One day after critiquing his prized pupil’s finish in the 100 butterfly and questioned Phelps’ mental preparation for the morning prelims, Bowman watched a much more Phelps-like performance. The 14-time Olympic gold medalist earned the No. 2 qualifying spot in the morning prelims, just behind Clary.
In the finals, 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 meters. Clary came in at 4:13.01.
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, wasn’t as happy with his results.
After missing the finals in both of his events 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 meters. His final split of 31.80 dropped him from first to fifth before moving 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 don’t know what happened. It happened so fast," Lochte said before correcting himself. "Actually, it happened so slow. 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. 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 in Indy 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.
Thirty minutes later, Franklin was back on the starting block for the 200 back. Franklin won the race in 2:07.97, 1.5 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Elizabeth Pelton.
She never wore down.
"I love swimming back-to-back races like that," Franklin said. "I just start feeling good, and it’s been great every time I’ve done it."
Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu won the women’s 400 IM by more than 3.5 seconds over Caitlin Leverenz with a time of 4:32.83.
Nathan Adrian, who beat Phelps in the 100 free on Thursday after his trunks ripped, won again Friday by edging out George Bovell by 0.01 seconds in the men’s 50 free. Madison Kennedy won the women’s 50 free in 24.99.
Meanwhile, Phelps finish put the 400 IM back on the discussion list for this summer.
"Who knows?" he said. "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."