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Dec 6, 2014 6:23 PM

Coach: Phelps plans to race after suspension ends

The Associated Press

Michael Phelps is back in training and plans to return to competition after his six-month suspension ends in March.

Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, told The Associated Press on Saturday that it's not yet known which meets the 18-time gold medalist will enter once he is eligible.

The suspension ends March 6. That would set up Phelps for a possible return at the Mesa Grand Prix in Arizona on April 15-18 which, in an interesting twist, was his first meet after coming out of retirement this year.

Phelps could also compete at Arena Grand Prix meets in Charlotte, North Carolina (May 14-17) and Santa Clara, California (June 18-21).

"We're looking at a lot of different options for competition," Bowman told the AP in a phone interview. "We're just taking it one day at a time. He's back in training, and we're seeing how things go. We'll look at things in March and really go from there."

Phelps was suspended by USA Swimming on Oct. 6 in the wake of his second drunken-driving arrest, one day after he entered a six-week inpatient program that he said would "provide the help I need to better understand myself."

The 29-year-old swimmer completed the program but still must deal with the charges. A court hearing is scheduled for Dec. 19 in his hometown of Baltimore. Legal experts have said it's unlikely he would have to do any jail time, even though he was arrested on the same charges a decade ago.

Phelps was also banned from competing at next summer's world championships in Russia, but is moving forward with plans to take part in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

He is the winningest athlete in Olympic history and most decorated as well, with 22 medals overall.

In addition to competing at the U.S. meets, Phelps might look to enter some international competitions to fill out his schedule next year, since he won't be at the biggest meet of 2015.

"With the domestic program, there are relatively few good options," Bowman said. "I don't think there will be a lot of surprises in it. We'll see where he is in a couple of months and kind of go from there in terms of meets."

The coach said Phelps was in reasonably good shape, certainly much better than he was a year ago when he got back into serious training after his retirement.

"He's not nearly as far away as he was last fall," Bowman said.

Phelps' fellow swimmers look forward to having him back at the pool.

"The number one thing he's doing right now is making sure he is healthy," said Ryan Lochte, who is perhaps Phelps' leading rival. "There's no doubt in my mind he'll be back in the water. He loves this sport, he loves the excitement if just getting on the blocks and racing."

Lochte had said all along that he expected Phelps to return after he retired following the 2012 London Olympics. Lochte figures the DUI case and suspension will only strengthen Phelps' resolve.

"Once you're in that racing mode, it's hard to get rid of it," Lochte said recently. "That's the reason he came back. He missed that excitement of racing the best people in the world. There's no doubt in my mind that he'll be ready for Rio."

Natalie Coughlin said she reached out to Phelps after his arrest. The two are longtime members of the U.S. national team.

"I just wanted to tell him how much I cared about him and want him to be well," Coughlin said. "I think he's making the proper steps in his life to get his life in order. Hopefully we'll see him back in the pool. It's a blessing to see him race whenever he can. He's incredible."

Phelps made a strong return after his retirement, winning three golds and two silvers at the Pan Pacific Championships in August.

In fact, he was named the male athlete of the year by USA Swimming at the Golden Goggles awards last month.


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963


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