Michael Phelps' first competitive dip into the pool after retiring might have been a second-place effort — but it still had all the splash that only the 22-time Olympic medalist can make.
Since Phelps entertained thoughts of defending his Olympic titles in Brazil, there was the matter of qualifying for the national championships in Southern California in August.
On Thursday night, Phelps lost his first race to Ryan Lochte in the 100-meter butterfly final at the Arena Grand Prix.
It was Phelps’s first race in 628 days — since his butterfly leg in the gold-medal-winning 4x100 medley relay at the London Olympics in 2012 — and it attracted a sellout crowd of 1,200 Thursday at the Skyline Aquatic Center.
Lochte touched first in 51.93 seconds, second-fastest in the world this year. Phelps took second in 52.13 in his first meet since retiring after the London Games.
"I swam a final again," a smiling Phelps said later. "I said I wanted to be around 52.0 and I would be completely happy with that."
He is the three-time Olympic champion and current world record-holder in the event. His time tied for fourth-quickest in the world.
"It's one meet; it's one race," Phelps said. "It's a long way whether I decide to continue or not."
Swimming before packed stands and lots of media, Lochte led at the turn and Phelps was second.
"Down there at the turn I kind of peeked over and I saw him and almost started smiling," Lochte said about his longtime friend and rival.
Phelps interjected, "Why? Because you were ahead?"