ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Swimming in a state championship meet in a 25-yard pool and against mostly 15 to 17 year olds, Michael Phelps was a long way from being anywhere close to an Olympic venue.
The 24-year old, 14-time Olympic Gold medalist was nowhere near Olympic form, disappointing himself, frustrating his coach and leaving the standing room crowd unfulfilled.
Phelps' time of 3 minutes, 39.01 seconds in winning the 400 individual medley in the Maryland State Swim Championships at the U.S. Naval Academy, was well off the U.S. short course record of 3:35.98 in the event.
"I'm not happy, not at all," said Phelps, whose most recent international appearance was as a spectator at the Vancouver Olympics last month. He last swam competitively seven weeks ago.
"I wasn't as focused as I should have been. I let things control me that I should have been able to control. This is my job, my profession. I should handle things differently," Phelps said after the first of four events he plans to compete in this weekend's three-day meet. "I can say today, at this moment, after this event, 3:39 is nowhere close to what I can or should do."
Phelps is swimming here as part of a schedule designed to get him back in peak condition for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. But, according to his coach, Bob Bowman, Friday's swim was a step in the wrong direction.
"Everything we do in training and competition is a stepping stone in the big picture, everything is meant to be a step forward, but today was a step backward," Bowman said.
While Phelps would not be specific as to what was responsible for his poor showing, Bowman said Phelps' training hasn't been what it should be.
"He's the best in the world when he's prepared. When you're that fast, you have to be able to prepare yourself to swim at that level," Bowman added. "It comes down to how you train, without question. He has to be more consistent in his training."
Phelps' other events in this meet will be the 200-yard IM and 500 freestyle on Saturday and the 200 butterfly on Sunday. Short-course races are held in shorter pools that are measured in yards, rather than in 50-meter pools as are most events.
"I wasn't as prepared as I should have been. I was so looking forward to this race, but there it is: 3:39. I have to put this behind me. I have three more chances [here] to do better than I did today," Phelps said.