Phelps back in pool, training for 2012 Olympics

Posted Sept. 27, 2011, at 7:21 p.m.

NEW YORK — It’s still September, and Michael Phelps has already been training for six weeks.

He couldn’t say that in any of the last three years since his record-setting Beijing Olympics. The 16-time medalist is swimming more yards per week now — 10 months before the London Games — than he ever did in the lead-up to this past summer’s world championships.

“It’s going … “ Phelps paused to search for the right word, then settled on: “better.”

“I’m a lot happier,” he told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “There’s a lot more drive inside of me.”

The drive that carried him to eight gold medals in 2008 hasn’t always been there in the years since. But now another Olympic meet is looming, his last one.

Phelps isn’t in good enough shape yet to swim the kind of distances he was doing in September 2007, when he could crank out workouts of 8,000 yards 10 times a week. But he says that when it comes to the intensity of coach Bob Bowman’s sets, it’s the same as four years ago.

Phelps won seven medals, including four golds, at worlds, when he acknowledged he wasn’t at peak fitness. The more telling numbers were that teammate Ryan Lochte took home five golds and beat Phelps in both of their matchups.

“He definitely has shown what he’s made of,” Phelps said. “Yeah, he’s made statements. He’s very hungry and knows what he wants, and he goes out and does it. He’s somebody good for me to race who brings the best out of me every time I race him. I’m looking forward to the next year seeing how everything’s going to happen.”

Phelps noted that he set a personal best in the 200-meter individual medley in Shanghai. The problem was Lochte was faster, setting the first world record since high-tech bodysuits were banned 19 months earlier.

“For the situations, it was OK,” Phelps said of his performance at worlds. “But for me, OK isn’t good enough. I know what I have to do. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, and it’s something I’m ready for.”

He wasn’t totally ready for worlds with only about eight months of preparation.

“Hopefully, I can get back to some kind of physical level like I was in Beijing,” Phelps said. “That was the best shape I’ve ever been in my life. If I could work on getting close to that, I’ll be able to accomplish the goals that I have.”

He’s not sure how many events he’ll be seeking to win. Other than Phelps swearing off the grueling 400 IM, everything else he has swum regularly over the years is still on the table. It will all depend on whether he believes he can handle certain combinations of races in the same session. In Beijing, he won those record eight golds because he repeatedly withstood quick turnarounds.

“I think it really just comes down to what kind of shape I’m going to be in that day and what I think I can put my body through and be successful at,” Phelps said. “I don’t want to jeopardize other events.”

Bowman warned Phelps that he wasn’t putting in the time to do his best at worlds. Now his star pupil seems to be listening.

“Bob’s a lot more relaxed. I’m a lot more relaxed,” Phelps said. “I think it’s going to be a better outcome.”

Phelps was in Manhattan on Tuesday to run and swim with eight-time Winter Games medalist Apolo Anton Ohno, who’s training for the New York City Marathon for shared sponsor Subway.

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