- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

CHULA VISTA, CALIF. (AP) - Michael Phelps woke up four Sundays ago and decided he wanted to keep swimming.

He still had the desire _ although he said 2012 will be his last Olympics _ and all the scrutiny over the photo of him inhaling from a marijuana pipe hadn’t taken away his motivation.

“Actually I’ve been talking to some other athletes about it, too,” Phelps said Saturday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. “There’s some athletes who have had problems and I’ve been able to sort of get their side on it and how they’ve handled it.

“It’s all really about what’s in your heart, and that’s why I’m back in the pool,” said Phelps, who sat next to coach Bob Bowman, with a large American flag hanging above them on a wall. “If it wasn’t in my heart, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be out here, I wouldn’t be training. Who knows what I’d be doing. But I wouldn’t be doing this right now.”

Phelps and several other Americans are in the middle of a two-week training camp for this summer’s national and world championships. They’re in the pool twice a day, at 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., and spent part of one day training with U.S. Navy SEALs.

After winning a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, Phelps had by far the most time off from competition he’s ever had.

The photo of Phelps and the marijuana pipe surfaced in early February. He was suspended for three months by USA Swimming and has lost two major sponsors.

“I did make a mistake and it was stupid and it shows how things can turn one way or another,” Phelps said. “I’ve been able to sort of learn from all the mistakes I’ve really ever made and that’s what I’m doing from this and that’s what I continue to plan on doing.

“It seems that really whenever I’m out of the water, that’s when something happens,” said Phelps, who was arrested for DUI in 2004, a couple of months after winning six gold and two bronze medals in Athens. “Swimming has been such a big part of my life growing up and I’ve always been in this same routine and the same regime, and that’s how my life has really been sort of constructed, you could say.

“At that point it was difficult. It was hard. I knew all along that I needed to have some sort of structure back to my life, and at that point, whether it was getting back in the pool or whether it was doing something else. My comfort is obviously being back in the pool. There still was a passion and I’m just happy to be back in the pool and being able to train again.”

Phelps said he’s had plenty of time in recent months to think about his future. He made up his mind four weeks ago.

“It was like night and day,” he said. “I went to bed not even thinking about anything, I was watching TV, then went to bed, then literally woke up. It was overnight, like something just clicked. It was just a feeling. The next day I called Bob, my mom, my sisters, and I said, ‘Are you guys ready?’ And they all said, ‘We’re behind you.’ “

Phelps plans to return to competition May 14-17 at the Charlotte UltraSwim. He’ll swim in the Santa Clara International Grand Prix in June, participate in an altitude camp, then swim in a meet in Montreal before the national championships.

He said he’s added 15 pounds since Beijing, and figures it’ll probably be the beginning of next year before he’s back in top shape.

Phelps said his goal this summer is do better than four years ago at the world championships, when he failed to reach the finals of an event for the first time ever.

“I know the first few months are going to be absolutely painful,” Phelps said. “They have been. There have been times where I’ve gotten out of bed and had to take extra long to get out of bed just because I’m sore. It’s because I’ve never had a break like this. … I want to get back up and race.”

Bowman said he’s making technical changes in some of Phelps’ strokes.

“I think a big step for him will be to swim in the world championships this summer and see how that holds up,” Bowman said. “It’s fairly difficult to change a stroke that you saw for a long time. We can set some time goals, and we’ll know a lot more after he swims in a couple meets about what he’s really capable of doing.”

Asked which strokes, Bowman said, “You’ll know. There’s some things that we think he can do to be faster.”

Said Phelps: “You’ll be able to tell the clear difference between my strokes. It’ll be a pretty obvious change.”

Bowman said Phelps will swim a pared-down schedule of not more than three individual events plus relays. Bowman would like to see him swim the backstroke.

Asked about the London Olympics, Phelps said: “I’m going four years, then I’m stopping. 2012 will be my last meet. I’ll be 27, and I told him I’m not swimming past 30. If I go three years until I’m 30, I’ll want to go another one until 2016, so I’m stopping at 2012.”

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