- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

Michael Phelps‘ road to the London Olympics began Tuesday — and it was painful.

Fifteen pounds heavier and out of the water since mid-August while traveling the world after winning eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, Phelps began his training in Baltimore with an hour apiece in the weight room and pool.

“I’m starting to get back into a routine to get the blood flowing and the muscles working again — [my body] was almost in a state of shock,” the U.S. Olympic Committee sportsman of the year said Thursday. “It’s time to shed some of the weight off and get back into shape. The biggest thing I have to do is push through, but it feels like I have some normalcy back in my life.”

Phelps hasn’t finalized which events he will swim but has ruled out the marathon eight-event program that allowed him to break Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in an Olympiad. The 400 individual medley is not on the agenda, and Phelps has previously said he wouldn’t mind concentrating on shorter events.

“I’m almost positive that was my last eight-event meet,” he said. “I’m still in the process of working on what events to do this summer. There’s nothing really set in stone yet, but that will be something over the next week that we’ll be able to think about and put some ideas on paper.”

Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, targeted a meet in Texas in early March for Phelps’ competitive return. The marquee meet this year is the world championships July 18 to Aug. 2 in Rome.

Phelps, who turns 27 in 2012, has won an Olympic-record 14 gold medals. While his program won’t be as taxing, the goals will remain the same: win gold medals and win them in world-record time.

”I don’t want to come back and swim these next four years and not be satisfied with how it went,” he said. “I’ll still have my goals, and I want to make sure I reach them and accomplish them. It won’t be as intense as the last four years, but it will still be intense - the goals I set won’t be a cakewalk. They’re going to be high goals.”

The USOC also recognized swimmer Natalie Coughlin and gymnast Nastia Liukin, who tied for sportswoman of the year. Swimmer Erin Popovich was selected as paralympian of the year, and the gold-medal men’s volleyball squad was named the top team.

Phelps intends to compete in London, and Liukin might be there to defend her all-around gymnastics title. Liukin, who won four medals in Beijing, has resumed training five to six hours a day.

“People say, why keep going?” she said. “I love competing and enjoy the sport. That overpowers the question of putting my title up there. I haven’t made a 100 percent commitment [to returning], but I’m making the commitment to get in shape and compete.”

Coughlin became the first American woman to win six medals in a single Olympics. The men’s volleyball team won its first gold in 24 years while mourning the loss of coach Hugh McCutcheon’s father-in-law, who was killed the morning after the opening ceremonies.

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