Irvine: Michael Phelps is feeling like his old self again, so much so that he is ready to swim the 400-meter individual medley for the first time since the Beijing Olympics.
Phelps will test himself in the challenging event at the Pan Pacific Swim Championships, a five-day showdown starting Wednesday with stars from America, Australia, Japan, China, Brazil, Canada, South Africa and other nations.
"I feel like I can actually swim my strokes again," Phelps said.
The American won a record eight gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, including a 400 IM title with a world-record time of 4 minutes 3.84 seconds, but has not competed in the event since.
"I decided why not give it a shot - I really don`t have anything to lose," he said.
Phelps, who will also compete in the 100 and 200 butterfly at the Pan Pacs, is the defending 400 IM champion in the meet, which is staged every four years in seasons without world or Olympic championships.
The return of Phelps to the 400 IM pleased his coach, Bob Bowman.
"It`s his best event and he should keep swimming it," Bowman said. "It`s the decathlon of swimming and it kind of defines him as a complete swimmer."
But after two years away from the event, Bowman said the challenge for Phelps was to be among the fastest eight in preliminaries and the two fastest Americans who will make the final.
"His challenge is to get into the final," Bowman said. "He likes to go kind of easy in the morning and he can`t do that."
That`s because he will be challenged not only by the world`s best but also by countrymen Ryan Lochte and Tyler Clary.
Reigning world 200 and 400 IM champion Lochte beat Phelps in the 200 IM and 200 backstroke two weeks ago at the US championships. Lochte also took the US 400 IM meet crown.
"It`s a great opportunity for me to see where I stand," Phelps said.