COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Already acclaimed as the world's fastest swimmer, Michael Phelps believes he has found the secret to going even faster: being in shape.
"It's crazy what training actually does," he said, laughing Friday night after cruising to the second-best time in the world this year in winning the 200 free at the Columbus Grand Prix. "When you do start to train, and you do start working out, you do get in better shape. It's kind of wild how that works."
Taking care not to push himself too hard and to stay on pace, Phelps was in control from the start of the event at Ohio State's McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion. Greeted by a loud ovation when he walked in with his fellow competitors, he had a big lead from the instant he bobbed to the surface from the start and the 14-time gold medalist easily won in 1:48.41.
In his first meet since spending more than three weeks in Colorado, his time was second only to the 1:45.42 of France's Yannick Agnel this year.
Phelps said Thursday he was just starting to regain his focus in the sport after three aimless years that followed his unparalleled eight-gold medal performance at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
"I said I wanted to be out in 51 and just kind of feel like I have control over my speed," Phelps said. "That's kind of how it was. I felt kind of like the old me, like being able to control and not just swimming like a spaz. I was really pleased."
He and coach Bob Bowman have a plan in mind built around event goals and times.
Phelps met his pre-race expectations in terms of time and pace. Like a thoroughbred being reined in, he has had difficulties in the past holding himself back.
"Over the last three years that would be all I could do -- I wouldn't be able to control my speed and control my pace of a race," he said. "Being able to get some training and get my stroke back and be able to have better splits and to work out allowed me to swim that race smarter than I have over the last three years."
Phelps is pointing to this summer's London Olympics as his last.
Based in Ann Arbor, Mich., for years, he got updates throughout the night on the University of Michigan's 73-69 overtime victory over Minnesota in the Big Ten men's basketball tournament quarterfinals.
He admitted he had recently jumped on the bandwagon of the Big Ten co-champions.
"I started watching Michigan a little bit since we're better now," he said, laughing.
Another Olympic gold medalist, Natalie Coughlin, coasted to a win in the 100 fly in 59.17. Like Phelps, that also set a meet record. Her time was the seventh best in the world this year.
"I'm the strongest I've ever been," said the three-time gold medalist. "Last week I hit a bunch of PRs in the weight room, which I was really excited about. And training in the pool has been going very well. So I'm excited about this year to see what happens."
Coughlin had done poorly in the event earlier in the day.
"I went 59.1 and I definitely had a lot of room for improvement," she said. "I was quite a bit ahead of my heat and so I slowed it down toward the end."
Phelps will swim in the 200 fly and Coughlin in the 100 back on Saturday. Each will have two races on Sunday. Phelps will compete in the 100 free and 200 back, Coughlin in the 200 IM and 100 free.
The meet is the fourth in the seven-event Grand Prix series with upcoming meets in Indianapolis, Charlotte, N.C., and Santa Clara, Calif.