NEW YORK - Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps made a victorious return to the pool on Thursday, winning the 100 metres butterfly in Mesa, Arizona, in his first race back after a six-month ban following a drunk driving conviction.
Phelps, eyeing a possible return to the Olympics at the 2016 Rio Games, set the fastest time in the heats with 52.92 seconds and comfortably won the final in 52.38 ahead of longtime rival Ryan Lochte (53.11).
The 18-times Olympic gold medalist was happy to be back in competition at the Arena Pro Swimming Series but realised he had room to improve as his time was outside the world's top 10.
"Being the first race back, I think it's okay, probably some things to fix," he said. "But I think it's a good starting point.
"I'm looking forward on more to come," added Phelps, who is entered in four more races in the meeting.
Phelps made a slow start in the race but seemed to gain strength as he approached the turn.
"I'm trying to make sure I'm not gliding into the walls, and I'm working on always hitting two-hand touches in practice," he said.
Phelps, the Olympic champion in the event, finished strong and widened his lead before the final touch.
It was the 29-year-old Phelps's first race since the Pan Pacific Championships in August.
"Being back in the water racing is something I love and something that I really do enjoy and it does feel good to be back," the bearded Phelps said.
Phelps is also entered in Friday's 100 backstroke and 400 freestyle, and in the 200 individual medley and 100 freestyle on Saturday.
The meeting has attracted some of the top US swimmers, including Lochte, who is entered in the same events as Phelps.
Phelps was greeted enthusiastically by the crowd, and welcomed back by Lochte as well.
"I'm just glad he's back," Lochte said.
"He's the hardest racer in the world. He'll go toe to toe with you in any event, and I love that, because it's a challenge whenever you go up on those blocks with him." - Reuters
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