DOHA: Ryan Lochte and Chad le Clos on Saturday both welcomed the news that banned Olympic legend Michael Phelps will return to the pool at the French leg of the FINA World Cup series next August.
The 22-time Olympic medallist was banned for six months by USA Swimming in October after being charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), excessive speed and crossing the centre line while driving inside a tunnel.
But French swimming federation president Francis Luyce confirmed on Saturday that 18-time Olympic gold medallist Phelps will compete in the short-course meet at Chartres-Paris on August 15-16.
Luyce said he had been informed of Phelps’ participation by Dave Neilburger, American vice-president of world swimming body FINA, during the world short-course swimming championships currently underway in Doha.
Lochte and fellow American Phelps are long-time friends and rivals and the 11-time Olympic medallist told AFP: “There was no doubt in my mind (he would be back again). I knew for a fact he was going to come back.
“He misses the sport, he misses the excitement of being on the blocks and racing the best people on the blocks.
“Then he got suspended but I know he is in the water right now training and when he comes back he is going to be coming back!”
After the ban, Phelps, 29, also agreed he would withdraw from the United States team for the World Championships (50m) in Kazan, Russia in August 2015.
Lochte added: “It doesn’t matter if it’s short course or long course – especially when you are at a certain point of swimming – all that really matters at the end of the day is racing.
“There’s no doubt about it, Michael does it the best of anyone in this entire world. He’s the racer.
“So him going to the World Cup in France in August is good. It is just a stepping stone for him and what he is going to accomplish out in Rio (Olympics).”
The Baltimore athlete announced his retirement after the 2012 London Olympics – although team-mate and rival Lochte was always very vocal about a possible comeback.
So it transpired with Phelps returning to the pool to claim three gold medals at the Pan Pacific Championships in August in Australia to book his place on the team for Kazan.
Le Clos, meanwhile, seared himself on the world’s consciousness when his last-gasp victory over his idol in what was then Phelps’ final 200m butterfly prompted tears from the South African and unbridled joy from his father Bert.
The 22-year-old has gone on to dominate the butterfly but he knows he faces another battle when Phelps returns for the second time.
“He is a great champion. He wouldn’t have made it public about coming back if he wasn’t going out to win gold medals,” Le Clos told AFP.
“He is going to try to come back at the top of his game.”
The pair have met in the shorter pool, Le Clos revealing: “In 2011 we did a 200 fly short-course together. I got second and he got third and the Japanese guy won.
“It was such an anti-climax to beat Michael Phelps and come second so I don’t count that as a win.”