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SYDNEY (Reuters) - Almost two years of retirement has meant Michael Phelps needs to listen to his body and take it slower than in the past but it has not dulled his competitive fire as he sent an ominous warning to his fellow swimmers at next week's Pan Pacific championships in Australia.
"I still can't stand to lose," the 18-time Olympic champion told reporters in Brisbane on Saturday ahead of his first international meeting since the 2012 Olympics.
The 29-year-old Phelps, who retired after the London Games before he made a comeback earlier this year, qualified for the 100 meters butterfly and 200 individual medley at the Aug 21-24 Pan Pacs after finishing second in both events at the recently completed U.S. championships.
The fact he was pipped by Tom Shields in the 100 butterfly by 0.01 seconds and by world record holder Ryan Lochte by 0.05 seconds in the medley in Irvine, grated with him though he did recognize he was getting older.
"Losing by a hundredth (of a second) and losing by five one-hundredth at the (U.S.) nationals in two out of three events was frustrating," he added.
"I am taking it a lot slower now than what I did before because I do understand that I need to give my body time to get back and build up to where I want to be," he added.
"I can't just expect to do everything I want from the get-go. Being able to have a year-and-a-half off, I've been able to learn a lot about myself and I still have that competitive side.
"It's still the same with anything I want to do. But it's going to take a little time for me to get back. We're doing it slowly."
Phelps had said prior to the U.S. Nationals he would see where he stood before committing whether to go ahead to the next Olympics in Rio and the Pan Pacs were a step in helping make that decision.
His decision to make a comeback to the sport, however, was not a surprise for team mate and great rival Lochte.
"I think I was the first one to say that he's going to come back," Lochte said.
"Once you have that competitive edge in you, it's hard to get rid of.
"He missed being in that water, getting up on the blocks and the excitement of racing the top guys in the world."
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Patrick Johnston