BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) ‚Michael Phelps is ready to put an up-and-down post-Olympic year behind him and focus on the challenges that await in 2010, including adjusting to a ban on the high-performance suits that rocked his sport.
The 14-time Olympic gold medalist will compete in one final meet, Duel in the Pool on Dec. 18-19 in Manchester, England, before closing out the year.
"The biggest thing right now is me getting back in shape," he told The Associated Press backstage at Sunday night's Golden Goggle awards, where he collected two trophies.
Phelps' recent trip to Europe for two World Cup short-course meets produced a batch of what he described as "pretty awful slow races," resulting in no victories, let alone any records.
In preparation for the Jan. 1 ban on high-tech suits, Phelps wore an old-style suit, making him look even slower against his polyurethane-clad competition.
"In a way I'm kind of happy that happened, to light the fire a little bit more," he said. "That's something that's going to excite me even more."
Phelps donned the old-style, textile knee-length suit, trying to gain an advantage before the rest of the world returns to them. Still, losing every final he was in surprised some people, but not him or coach Bob Bowman.
"I knew going over there I wasn't prepared. I wasn't in the kind of shape to go over there and break a record or let alone even win," he said. "I'm fine with it. The big meets aren't in October, November. They're at the end of the summer."
The year began on a down note after a British tabloid published a photo of Phelps using a marijuana pipe, causing an uproar that didn't play well with some of his sponsors or his image as a role model for youngsters. USA Swimming suspended him for three months.
Phelps rebounded in July to win five golds and a silver at the world championships in Rome. He was busy the next month, too, injuring his ankle when his SUV was hit by a car that ran a red light and being challenged by Shaquille O'Neal in the pool, giving swimming a prime-time TV boost.
Upon returning home last week, Phelps shaved the beard he sported in Europe and returned to the kind of serious training that earned him a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.
"I haven't really been in the kind of pain that I was this last week, but it's good for me," he said. "This is my first real week where I've had decent training and been happy in the pool and wanted to work out. That's good and something that is definitely needed."
After spending Thanksgiving at home in Baltimore with his mother and two sisters, Phelps will get ready for Duel in the Pool. After Christmas, he'll head to Colorado for three weeks of high-altitude training before beginning his competitive year with a short-course meet in Long Beach, Calif., on Jan. 15.
"It's going to be different racing in the (old-style) suits," he said. "I'm probably going to train a little different because you have to be in better shape in wearing these suits."
The two biggest meets for Phelps next year will come about two weeks apart in August. The first is U.S. nationals, which serves as the selection meet for both the 2011 world championships and Pan Pacific championships later in the month in Irvine, Calif.
The Pan Pacs include swimmers from the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan and are held every four years.
"I'm preparing myself for that," he said, "and trying to swim the fastest times I can next summer. That's always the goal."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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