'Grandfather' Phelps plays down Rio prospects

Wed Apr 23, 2014 9:17pm EDT
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By Julian Linden

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Michael Phelps is playing down expectations about his return to competitive swimming but the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a mind-boggling 18 gold medals, is finding it tough to sell himself as an underdog.

On Wednesday, the 28-year-old fronted a packed media conference on the eve of his eagerly-awaited comeback at a U.S. swimming Grand Prix meet in Mesa, Arizona.

He arrived unshaven, a little plumper than normal and with no swimsuit sponsor, and with the news that he had already pulled out of Thursday's 100 meters freestyle heats to concentrate on the 100m butterfly and Friday's 50m freestyle.

"I haven't signed any contracts, no one's making me do this. I'm doing this because I want to," he explained.

"I'm loving just being back in the water and in a group. I'm even more relaxed than I ever was before. I'm smiling a lot, I'm happier, I'm joking a lot.

"I really am the grandfather of your group now. I'm the old man."

But for a man who had spent his life demolishing records and setting the gold standard for Olympic success, it is a routine few are buying.

Phelps did not reach Olympic immortality through a devil-may-care approach to his sport.   Continued...

Apr 23, 2014; Mesa, AZ, USA; Michael Phelps dives in for the first time during a practice session for the Arena Grand Prix swim meet at Skyline Aquatic Center. Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports