Michael Phelps speaking at a news briefing in Mesa Wednesday afternoon. (Source: CBS 5 News)
MESA, AZ (CBS5/AP) -
Michael Phelps qualified fastest for the 100-meter butterfly final in his first competition since retiring after the 2012 London Olympics.
He was second at the turn and came on down the stretch to win his heat in 52.84 seconds at the Arena Grand Prix on Thursday. That was the quickest time of any swimmer in the morning preliminaries and advanced Phelps to the evening final in Mesa.
Phelps' rival and friend Ryan Lochte was second-quickest, winning his heat in 52.94.
Phelps is the world and American record holder in the 100 fly. He became the first man to win the same event at three consecutive Olympics when he captured gold in London with a time of 51.21, his last competitive time in the event before Thursday.
He was the star attraction during prelims, with the stands packed for his comeback.
On Wednesday, during a media briefing, he said his love of swimming and thirst for competition led him to come out of retirement.
"I'm doing this because I want to," Phelps said. "Nobody is forcing me to do this. I want to be back in the water."
Phelps said he hasn't raced since the 400 medley in the 2012 London Olympics.
Over the past two years, he said he's traveled, played golf and gained 30 pounds.
"There was something I missed," Phelps said. "I'm looking forward to wherever this road takes me."
Paul Smith, who owns the Mesa Aquatic Club, says this is great for the sport, for Mesa and beyond.
"It's just exciting beyond belief for all the people that are making this happen. It's a fairytale," said Smith.
Smith says the Skyline Aquatic Center just happened to be hosting the right event at the right time.
"There were folks that had mentioned that he had entered the drug-testing protocol which is required to go back into competition. We just happened to be on the competition calendar the first meet he would have been eligible for," said Smith.
"Coach Bowman was quoted today that he was coming in with no expectations, no assumptions. He wants to have some fun," said Smith.
People wanting to go to the Arena Grand Prix are out of luck. Tickets sold out within 24 hours of Phelps announcing that he will be there.
Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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