Michael Phelps, 2012 Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix
If we learned anything from the 2012 Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix, it's that Michael Phelps is not ready for the Summer Olympics in London.
Not yet, anyways.
America's favorite Olympian from the Beijing games still has work to do before his final Olympic appearance. Phelps finished second in the 200-meter butterfly this weekend, and he also placed second in the 200-meter freestyle.
However, Phelps appears to be confident despite the underwhelming performance. In an interview with the Associated Press that was published on The Olympian website, Phelps said this about his races in Charlotte:
"I know this is not the Olympic trials, this is not the Olympic Games," Phelps said. "It's a stepping stone heading in the right direction for the end result. You've heard me say that so many times, but that's the truth. These are little things along the way - I like to call them quizzes - to really see what I need to improve on."
Here are five things that we learned about Phelps' performance at the Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix.
Michael Phelps is one of the most talented swimmers the world has ever seen. With two second-place finishes over the weekend at the Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix, we saw that Phelps is not in the shape he needs to be in to compete for multiple gold medals in London.
In the 200-meter butterfly, widely regarded as Phelps' best event, Phelps trailed the entire race. At the end, China's Wu Peng impressed the crowd with a fast finishing kick, passing Phelps and Sebastien Rousseau to capture the crown.
Phelps still has about two and a half months to train. Perhaps he has seen enough competition to know what he has to do to prepare for the Summer Olympics. But, his performance over the weekend has to cause some concern as to whether he can return to Olympic fitness form.
As every Olympian will say, getting to the top is hard, but staying on top is even harder. Clearly Phelps' best days as a swimmer are behind him, but he still has enough in the tank to get the job done in London.
But it may be his hardest Olympics yet.
Phelps competed in both the 2004 Athens games and the '08 Beijing games. He captured six gold medals and two bronzes in '04, and in '08, of course, he set the U.S. record with eight gold medals (both totals tied the Olympic world record).
China's Wu Peng may be Phelps' biggest competition. Peng won the 200 fly at the Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix, and he was the one that ended Phelps' winning streak in the same event in 2011. Fellow American Ryan Lochte appears to be headed for his peak in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Ricky Berens defeated Phelps in the 200-meter freestyle this weekend, as well.
Michael Phelps will be 27 years old when the London games begin in late July.
All signs point to a disappointing showing for Phelps in the London Summer Olympics: He is past his prime, he has already decided that London will be his last Olympics and he has promised not to do as many events this year as he has done in 2004 and 2008.
Phelps needs just three medals to set the Olympic record for the most medals of all time. But this year will be his biggest test. It is difficult for an athlete to dominate in three consecutive Olympics. If Phelps can dominate again at 27, he will go down as perhaps the best Olympian ever—but it is a daunting challenge.
Even though age may play a factor in Michael Phelps' third Olympics appearance, he has the experience in enough events to use to his benefit in London.
Sure, Phelps struggled this weekend at the Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix. He struggled at last year's world championships by winning only four of the seven events in which he competed (if you could call that struggling).
But maybe Phelps has an ace up his sleeve.
Perhaps Phelps has mastered his training enough to know how much he has to do to be successful for one more Olympics. It's possible that he is slowly reaching his peak form, and he doesn't mind if he loses along the way. Phelps may just be biding his time and saving his best racing for the Olympics.
Phelps is no longer a young athlete looking to make his mark for his country; he is a veteran swimmer that knows his competition and knows what he has to do to achieve success.
The biggest thing we learned from the 2012 Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix is that Michael Phelps has plenty more preparation and training ahead before he is considered a favorite for the gold in any event at the London games.
Phelps will surely take his training to the next level as he reaches the final stretch before the Summer Olympics. Phelps' London fate will be decided in the next two months of training.
Phelps has a body built for swimming, and his competition can only dream of having those physical gifts. But the difference between the gold medal and the bronze is fitness level and the will to win. We learned this weekend that Phelps' competition is ahead of him in that department, and they will also improve in the same areas during the next two months.
If Phelps can increase his intensity to reach the same level as his opponents in terms of fitness, training and preparation, then the world could be looking at the greatest Olympian of all time when the London games are all said and done.