MESA, Ariz. (AP) — A giddy Michael Phelps qualified fastest for the 100-meter butterfly final Thursday in his first competition since retiring after the 2012 London Olympics.
The 28-year-old swimmer was second at the turn and came on down the stretch to win his heat in 52.84 seconds at the Arena Grand Prix, easily advancing to the evening final.
"I felt like a summer league swimmer today," Phelps said, smiling. "I felt like I should have my heat and lane written on my hand so I didn't forget it."
Friend and rival Ryan Lochte was second-quickest, winning his heat in 52.94. Joining them in the eight-man final will be Olympian Jason Dunford of Kenya and two-time Olympian Albert Subirats of Venezuela.
Phelps and Lochte joked with each other behind the starting blocks when Phelps came out early for his heat, which came after Lochte's.
"He said, 'Maybe we should both just mess around and see if we can both get in the 'C' final,'" Phelps said.
Phelps' longtime coach Bob Bowman liked what he saw.
"I could tell when he came in that it was going to be good, that he was into it," he said.
Phelps walked on deck wearing his usual ear buds, but his smile replaced the serious look he always wore during the height of his career.
"It was more like I was just so excited to swim," he said. "You're going to hear this word come out of my mouth a lot — it was fun."
The 22-time Olympic medalist was greeted with loud cheers from the packed stands.
"It really is wild. It's good for the sport," Phelps said about his reception. "This is the sport I've known my whole entire life and loved my whole life. When I heard the roar in the stands, it's amazing."