- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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MESA, Ariz. -- Michael Phelps finished 42nd in Friday's 50 freestyle heats and did not qualify for the evening final. But that wasn't bad considering he was swimming the butterfly stroke in that event.
Why did Phelps swim the fly stroke in a free race? It's unusual, but not unheard of. The racing schedule didn't present a desirable event for Phelps on Friday, especially since one of the options was the 400 IM.
"I'm not ready for a 400 IM. I don't think I will ever be ready for that race again," Phelps said. "I will not swim the 400 IM, that I guar-an-tee you. So do not ask that question."
To that comment, coach Bob Bowman asked humorously, "Is that kind of like, 'I will never ever swim again after London?'"
With limited options, Phelps and Bowman decided to use the 50 free as a chance to work on the swimmer's signature fly stroke. They were pleased with the results. Phelps bettered his split time from Thursday's 100 fly final by seven-tenths of a second (24.06).
Asked whether his emphasis on shorter distances here was an indication of his future strategy in his return to competitive swimming, Phelps replied, "It's a good starting point, just to get some races under my belt. The schedule today wasn't really ideal for what I should swim at this moment."
Because Phelps did not qualify for the evening finals -- now that would have been a story -- the 50-free heat wrapped up his racing at the Arena Grand Prix. He is next entered in the Charlotte Grand Prix in two weeks, and Bowman said they would approach the meet with the same style, swimming one or two days.
Phelps appeared to greatly enjoy the experience. He repeatedly said he was having fun, and his expression, demeanor and engaging press conferences indicated that was indeed the case.
"I don't know what it was like here last year, but I know it is more exciting when you have the excitement level we had here," he said. "With kids that are cheering, with people packing the stands every single session, the tickets selling out in a handful of hours after I said I was coming back -- it's pretty special.
"I can't thank people enough for supporting me and cheering me on. It is pretty special to see the excitement on a lot of kids' faces. That is something that is amazing, just being able to have them around and have them enjoy a swim meet."