Michael Phelps just put in a three-week block of altitude training up in Colorado Springs, Colo. Coming down from altitude, he raced last weekend in Indianapolis. He decided beforehand that he would write down in a journal the times he wanted to hit at the races in Indy.
For those who have followed Phelps' incredible career, the 16 Olympic medals, 14 of them gold, you know that he can have an almost super-natural quality to predict his times. It's like he is a metronome.
More, it's a signal that he's motivated and on his game -- he's tuned in, he's dangerous and he's getting ready to really rock.
In an interview this week, this is what Phelps said he had written before the Indianapolis races in his journal:
"I wanted to go 1:46 in the 200 free." He went 1:46.27.
"I said 1:57 in the 200 IM but I was a little faster," 1:56.88.
"I said 1:55, 1:54 in the 200 fly." He touched in 1:55.34.
"48 in the 100 free." He came home in 48.89.
"And I wanted to hit 50-point in the 100 fly but I was a little off" -- 51.75.
Each of those five times is fastest in the world this year.
One race in particular, the 100 free, is worth dissecting in further detail.
Phelps has always been what's called a "back half" swimmer. That is, he goes out slower in the first 50 meters of a 100-meter race and comes on strong in the second 50.
So it was no surprise Phelps was behind at the turn, this time behind Jason Lezak, the very same Jason Lezak who saved the 400-meter freestyle relay gold for Phelps and the U.S. team in 2008 in Beijing.
Off the turn, though, Phelps turned it on. He swam the back half in 25.10. Nobody else in the field got under 26 seconds for the final 50 meters. Indeed, no one else in the field broke 50 seconds for the race. Again, Phelps finished in 48.89.
That kind of back half tells you that Phelps is once again feeling far more comfortable with his freestyle technique. He had since Beijing famously dithered with it, trying this, trying that, admitting to frustrations -- but now all again seems, well, Phelps-like.
Which means it's excellent but there's still plenty of tinkering to be done to go faster still -- just the way he and longtime coach Bob Bowman like it with four months to go until the 2011 world swimming championships in Shanghai and the countdown to the 2012 London Olympics nearing 500 days.
"Being able to go to Colorado and really work on some specifics really helped a lot," Phelps said of his freestyle technique.
"I am getting a feel for the water again. I am able to ride off my kick. Everything feels connected. I think it showed in the 200 and in the 100. But, I mean, there's still a lot of work to be done. Those times, at the end of the year, aren't going to stand up."
Phelps also said, "As a whole, I think for right now -- I'm on the right track." adding of the weekend in Indy, "I think after the weekend there I have started realizing I was enjoying myself, I was having fun, I was laughing, I was swimming how I wanted to.
"It's kind of -- I'm enjoying it more than I was before. I'm happy again and everything is clicking. It feels kind of good to be back and it feels good to be moving in the right direction."