Michael Phelps is used to blowing away the competition. But this weekend in Canham Natatorium, his only competitor was a stopwatch.
The six-time Olympic gold medalist swam in four exhibition races by himself on Friday and Saturday in the only homestand of the season for the Michigan men’s swimming and diving team.
Before an excited crowd of fans — made up of mostly young kids hoping to get a peek and possibly an autograph from the accomplished swimmer — Phelps dove into the pool and produced three record-breaking performances.
On Friday, he swam the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard backstroke, breaking pool records in both the events. His times excited the crowds, and Phelps couldn’t help but feel a similar emotion.
“Coming into today, (Michigan coach Bob Bowman) and I were talking about maybe doing a 1:45 (in the 200-yard individual medley), which I’m pretty sure is my best time,” Phelps said. “Being able to come in and swim 1:43.0 was pretty good. I’m pretty happy with that. Plus, being able to come back and go 1:46.4 in the 100 back, which is a little over a second under my best time. So, two best times in a day and being able to get back into the water and compete are the things I’m most happy with.”
Bowman was also pleased with how Phelps performed and mentioned that his races surpassed the expectations he had previously set for his swimmer.
“I was just hoping for him to do something at a racing effort with no back pain,” Bowman said. “The thing I liked most about the 1:43.0 was that he looked like he was going at a 1:48. I mean, I finally figured out after the breaststroke that, ‘wow, this could be pretty good.’ ”
On Saturday, Phelps swam the 100- and 200-yard freestyle. He broke the pool record in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:34.41. Phelps went on to swim the 100-yard freestyle but missed the pool record by just 0.61 of a second.
Phelps said he doesn’t enjoy only racing against a clock, but added that, when it’s necessary, he can do it. Bowman noted that having the large and loud crowd — like the one over the weekend — made a difference in everyone’s racing level.
“We were just glad (the fans) were here, and we hope they come back,” Bowman said. “I do think it’s more fun to swim before a lot people, and there is a lot of energy created. We actually spread the word about swimming to more people. I was happy with the turnout and, hopefully, we can keep that going.”
Since Phelps is unable to compete at the collegiate level due to his professional status, he is only allowed to compete in exhibition races with the Wolverines. Bowman is unsure if he’ll get the opportunity to race in this weekend’s dual meet against Ohio State but said that, in the future, Phelps will race exhibition in every home meet.
“It’s good for Michael (to race),” Bowman said. “It’s good for the team particularly because we get the people in. It’s good for swimming; it’s good all the way around.”