sport

Phelps set for sensational return

Just when his rivals thought it was safe to get in the pool, gold medal magnet Michael Phelps is back.

The most successful athlete in Olympic history with 18 gold medals, two silver and two bronze, Phelps will come out of retirement and compete at a domestic meeting in the United States next week.

If that goes well, and Phelps and coach Bob Bowman remain happy with his progress, the 6ft 4in American could target next year's World Championships and the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

Phelps, now 28, won six gold medals in Athens in 2004, a record-breaking eight four years later in Beijing and four at London 2012.

He vowed on leaving London that his competition days were over, believing he had signed off in the best possible style, but the comeback has been in the offing for a while, confirmed in a short announcement from USA Swimming on Monday.

The national association announced on its website that the 'Baltimore Bullet' is due to race at the Arena Grand Prix in Mesa, Arizona, which runs from April 24-26.

The USA Swimming report stated: "A record-setting 22-time Olympic Games medallist, Phelps is expected to swim competitively for the first time since winning six medals, four of them gold, at the 2012 London Olympic Games."

As he left the London Olympics, Phelps said: "I don't want to swim after I turn 30 and that is in three years - and I don't want to swim for another three years.

"I would be past 30 by the time (of) the next Olympics. I have achieved what I wanted to achieve, Bob (Bowman) and I have somehow been able to do every single thing.

"'If you can say that about your career then it's time to move forward, time to move on to other things. I finished my career how I wanted to."

Speaking to Press Association Sport in July 2013, as speculation began to swirl about a comeback, Phelps said: "If anybody would know about me coming back it would be myself and I haven't said one thing to anybody about anything. I enjoy playing golf, I enjoy waking up at noon every day - it's a good life."

Phelps has yet to discuss his return to action, with his most recent activity on social media being a message of congratulations to golf's Masters champion Bubba Watson.

It was confirmed last November that Phelps had re-registered with the United States Anti-Doping Agency, allowing drug testing to resume and him to move closer to a potential return.

Coach Bowman said last month: "He looks like he is definitely in shape.

"If he swims a meet in the next couple of months and does well, he will probably give it a shot in Irvine (at the United States Championships, in August). But he doesn't have to do that to have a shot at the 2016 Olympics."

Phelps' former rival Ian Thorpe also came out of retirement, emerging after four years out of swimming in a bid to qualify for London 2012.

However, the Australian failed to make his country's team and contracted an infection in his shoulder during surgery which means the five-time Olympic gold medallist will never return to competitive swimming.