The 29-year-old American, swimming in his first international meet since coming out of retirement, helped the United States win the 4×200-meter relay Friday at the Pan Pacific championships.
"Being able to get back on the podium — it feels amazing," Phelps said. "It’s a good first day. Good first international meet back. There’s no better way to finish this, lovely, rainy night then being able to step up with your teammates and win a gold medal."
Phelps finished fourth in his first final — the 100 free — but he later swam the second leg of the relay and watched as Matt McLean overhauled Takeshi Matsuda of Japan on the last lap.
In the 100, 20-year-old Cameron McEvoy of Australia won in 47.82 seconds in pouring rain at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre’s outdoor pool. Olympic gold medalist Nathan Adrian of the United States was second in 48.30 and James Magnussen, the two-time world champion from Australia, was third.
"What more could I ask for?" McEvoy said. "I just felt great the whole way. It was an honor to be in a race with such great men — so much those guys have accomplished. It was great to be in their company in that race — the whole night was awesome."
Phelps, who retired after the London Olympics but returned to competition four months ago, was just off the podium in 48.51.
"I don’t think it was terrible," the 18-time Olympic gold medalist said of the 100.
Phelps also took a more long-term view, saying he was "learning all the time" and knew what he needed to improve before the world championships next year and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Before taking the Americans right to the wire in the relay, Japan picked up two gold medals in the men’s competition with Kosuke Hagino winning the 400 medley and Yasuhiro Koseki winning the 100 breaststroke in 59.62.
Australian sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell finished 1-2 in the women’s 100 free, with Simone Manuel earning her first international individual medal when she held off American teammate Missy Franklin for bronze. Cate Campbell swam the fastest time of the year to qualify first for the final in 52.62 seconds, and went a shade slower to win the gold at 52.72.
After the 100 free, the Americans picked up the other three women’s gold medals on the second night of competition, with Jess Hardy winning the 100 breaststroke, Elizabeth Beisel holding off teammate Maya Dirado in the 400 medley and Katie Ledecky anchoring the 4×200 relay team to a comeback win over Australia.
It was the third gold medal of the meet for the 17-year-old Ledecky. And it was the first for Franklin, who won six titles at last year’s world championships but has been hampered by a back injury at the Pan Pacs.
Franklin said the Americans "take a lot of ownership" of the relays, and were excited to overhaul the Australians in their own pool.
"They’re definitely not something we like to lose," Franklin said. "Katie really wanted her rain relay, so we got that. It’s fun, you know, not always having the same thing. We’ve shaken it up a little bit."
Ledecky won the 200 and the 800 freestyle double on the opening day, and still has the 400 and the 1,500 to go. She holds the world records for the 400, 800 and the 1,500 but hadn’t experienced anything quite like the relay on a cold, wet, winter night in Australia.
"This is the best feeling, ever. It’s great to be there with these girls," Ledecky said. "This atmosphere … it’s kind of like a classic environment like `Friday Night Lights’ — rain, and a relay — so it it was pretty fun."