Michael PhelpsMichael Phelps (Mike Lewis/OlaVistaPhotography.com)

Michael Phelps raced in the preliminaries of the 100m butterfly and the 200m freestyle at the USA Swimming Grand Prix stop in Charlotte. He earned a spot in the 100m butterfly finals, which can be seen tonight (May 16) on Universal Sports at 6 PM ET LIVE. Coverage from Charlotte continues Saturday at 6 PM ET LIVE on Universal Sports

By Braden Keith, courtesy of SwimSwam.com

100 Butterfly

Michael Phelps took the 2nd seed into the finals of the 100 fly on Friday at the 2014 USA Swimming Grand Prix stop in Charlotte, swimming a 53.26.

He sits .03 seconds behind Florida State All-American Pavel Sankovic, originally from Belarus and who is skipping Belarus’ National Championship meet this week for the Grand Prix.

Phelps already pitted himself side-by-side with Sankovich, as the two were in the same preliminary race, so Phelps knows what he needs to do to win tonight. That is, he needs to keep better contact with Sankovic on the front-half of the race, where Sankovich led by half-a-body-length at the turn. This is a part of the race that is Sankovic’s strength, and it is Phelps’ weakness in the event (as it was both before and since his retirement). He is, however, capable, even at this stage of his training, of going out much faster, so the finals should be another interesting battle. The key will be to see what Phelps can do in a field without many of his American rivals, though there’s still a deep international group in the A-final. As SwimSwam’s Christine Wixted examined on Friday, Phelps thrives in rivalries and when he’s challenged by a worthy adversary, as we saw at the Mesa Grand Prix against Ryan Lochte, where he was much faster in the 100 fly. Lochte is not swimming in Charlotte as he continues to fight a knee injury.

This will be Phelps’ only race on Friday’s evening session, and it is the one event in his comeback that there is virtually unanimous agreement among swimming fans and insiders alike that Phelps will focus on.

200 Freestyle

Prior to the 2014 Charlotte Grand Prix, Michael Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman said that the pair was looking forward to seeing how he could do in the 200 long course meter freestyle: a race he hasn’t tried since returning from 18 months of retirement three weeks ago in Mesa, Arizona.

The first result will get mixed reviews, as Phelps swam a 1:51.69 to place 8th. His coach Bob Bowman said after the race that he would be scratching the event in finals, however.

Phelps got caught in somewhat of a slow heat in finals; the winner Michael Klueh is only the 7th seed in prelims in 1:51.52. After initially being announced as the 9th-place finisher, Phelps’ NBAC teammate Yannick Agnel, the Olympic Champion and World Champion in this event, was disqualified post-facto for a false start. The top seed out of prelims is another North Baltimore swimmer Conor Dwyer, in 1:49.31.

Phelps’ first freestyle race of his return looked solid. On the 3rd 50, he began to look rather pedestrian and disappeared back into the field, an observation that was supported by his split on that leg of the race.

Coming off of the final turn, we were all treated to that glimmer of Phelps of years past. He rocketed his last underwater, staying down a good 6 meters longer than anybody else. The result was a 27.84 split, which blew away his heat.

That underwater and the split it produced, perhaps, masked where Phelps is still working to build his endurance back up. Even after the great underwater, he wasn’t able to power away from everyone like we’re used to seeing from him after those great turns. As he’s falling back into his competitive rhythm, though, it’s a good sign that he’s getting back those details. His turns, that are part of what made him so special throughout his career. If he’s feeling good underwater, that’s a comfort zone that  he can build on as he heads toward bigger meets and continued training.