Austin: US Olympic hero Michael Phelps returns to the competition pool for the first time since late August when he races in the Austin Grand Prix long course meeting that starts here on Friday.
USA Swimming said Phelps was slated to compete in the three-day event, the second of seven events in the domestic Grand Prix series.
Ryan Lochte, who earned six short course world titles and set two individual short course world records in Dubai in December, is also scheduled to compete.
Lochte, who had a dominant 2010 season, is entered in five events alongside Phelps, who had a quiet 2010 season as he paid the price for what he admitted was lax training.
"Just getting in here and getting some races under my belt is the number one step," said Phelps, who knows he must get serious in 2011 if he is to make a splash at the 2012 London Olympics.
"Training could be better, could be worse. I`m starting to feel a little bit better in the water.”
"Being able to feel the water is going to better in a racing environment, especially with some the guys here I`ll be able to race against," Phelps said.
Phelps, whose 14 Olympic gold medals include his unprecedented eight from the 2008 Beijing Games, hasn`t raced since August 22, at the Pan Pacific Championships in Irvine, California.
Phelps concluded his Pan Pacs campaign by helping the United States to victory in the 4x100m medley relay.
But he withdrew from the 200m individual medley on that same concluding day of the Pan Pacs, saying his conditioning wasn`t good enough to allow him to compete in the individual event and still contribute to the relay.
Phelps` coach, Bob Bowman, said he looks at the Grand Prix races as training for Phelps more than a measuring stick against Lochte or others.
"Michael`s traditionally got a lot out of swimming and racing hard in meets," Bowman said. `He comes out of it and trains a lot better when we get home. I`m looking forward to that."
While Bowman said last year that Phelps couldn`t be considered 2010`s top swimmer, he made it clear he believes Phelps` legacy in the sport is assured.
"I`m always trying to push him ... that`s why I said that," Bowman said. "But when you look at what he`s done already, he`s the greatest of all time even if he walks out the door and never takes another stroke.”
"For him to even be here is a plus. To be in here with some goals and even motivated to swim fast, is even better."
The 2011 season will be highlighted by the long course World Championships in Shanghai July 16-31.
But for swimming`s elite, the countdown to the London Games has already begun.
"It`s going to be here before we know it," Phelps said. "Everybody knows it`s time to start focusing, buckling down and getting ready for it. It`s hard to believe Beijing was 2-1/2 years ago."’