GOLD COAST, Australia: Michael Phelps says he accomplished all he wanted to in his first international meet back from retirement, after winning three gold medals at the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia.
The all-time greatest Olympian, who has won 18 gold medals at the Games, improved through the four-day meet at the Gold Coast which finished Sunday, winning the 100-metre butterfly and as part of the successful men’s medley and 4x200m freestyle relay teams.
Four months into his comeback, his form was in stark contrast to this month’s US Championships, where he failed to win.
But the 29-year-old said there was room to improve as he looks to next year’s world championships in Kazan, Russia, and further ahead to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“I think for my first real international meet back we accomplished everything we wanted to,” he said.
“We were able to find out some of the things that I need to improve on over the next year and things I want to improve on.
“It is frustrating at times, but it’s usually how I respond well, so this is going to be a fun year and it’s going to be an exciting year.
“I have already started talking with (coach) Bob Bowman about some of the things that I need to do, like times that I need to go even before the world champs next summer.”
Phelps said he was pleased with how he was finishing races.
“It shows that I can finish races well. I finished pretty strong in all my swims here, now I just have to step on the first half,” he said.
While there was much interest in his performances, teammate Katie Ledecky was the undisputed star of the meet with five gold medals and two world records.
The 17-year-old carved almost six seconds off her 1500m record with a swim of 15 minutes 28.36 seconds on Sunday, after breaking her 400m mark on Saturday.
Ledecky also won the 200m and 800m freestyle golds, and was part of the American women’s winning 4x200m freestyle relay team.
“I knew it was my last race of the meet and the last race of the season and I wanted to finish a really good season on a good note,” she said of the 1500m.
The Americans finished the top nation, with 14 golds ahead of hosts Australia’s 10 and Japan’s seven.
Australia proved their supremacy over the Americans in the sprints, winning both 100m freestyle gold medals and the two 4x100m freestyle relays.
Cameron McEvoy swam the race of his life in the 100m freestyle to post the third-best time this year of 47.82 seconds ahead of US Olympic champion Nathan Adrian (48.30) and dual world champion James Magnussen (48.36) with Phelps fourth.
World and Commonwealth champion Cate Campbell outpaced her sister Bronte in the women’s 100m event at 52.72sec, after posting the year’s best time of 52.62 in the heats.
Campbell now has her eyes on the Olympic title in Rio.
“I’ll definitely be taking some time off and then refocusing. We’ve got two years to go and it’s looking very good,” she said.
Japan continued its strong showing by pushing the Phelps-led Americans all the way in the 4x200m freestyle relay and going down by just 0.13secs.
The Japanese highlight was Kosuke Hagino’s win over Phelps by just two-hundredths of a second to deny the American titan his second individual gold medal of the meet in the 200m individual medley.
Ryosuke Irie downed US Olympic champion Matt Grevers in the 100m backstroke, Yasuhiro Koseki won the men’s 100m breaststroke and Hagino also claimed the 400m individual medley.