Phelps the one to watch at next year's Olympics
American swim gurus believe he's back to his best; liken him to Jordan
While the rest of the planet's best competed at the world championships in Kazan last month, Michael Phelps was half a world away, making a splash that sent reverberations all the way to Russia.
In San Antonio, Texas, at the US Nationals, Phelps, rated as the greatest swimmer of them all, turned in a blistering 1min 52.94sec in the 200m butterfly, the fifth-best time in history and the fastest by anyone since 2009.
A day later, in the 100m butterfly, he wowed again, posting 50.45 - going faster than the swimmers at the world championships.
On the comeback trail, Phelps, who was banned from Kazan by USA Swimming after a drink-driving violation, sent a loud message that he was gearing up to be the main man at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
US swim team director Frank Busch believes Phelps can shatter more world records in Rio.
Speaking on the sidelines of the "Swim with Us" seminar hosted by national coach Sergio Lopez at the Singapore Sports Institute yesterday, Busch, the US Olympic coach in 2004 and 2008, said Phelps is close to his best once again.
"I think he's really changed very much, in the way he approaches things. He's very dedicated to having a great Olympics, so yes, I think he's going to be very, very fast in Rio," Busch told The New Paper.
"I also think he's capable of a world record. I really do, since he owns most of them. I wouldn't bet against him.
"That's because he thinks about winning, and he also thinks about going very fast."
Phelps, 30, owns a number of world records along with an astonishing 18 Olympic golds - the most in the history of the Games - after that magical record-breaking run to eight golds at Beijing 2008.
In the 100m butterfly event in Kazan, South Africa's Chad le Clos clocked 50.56sec to clinch gold, ahead of Hungary's silver medallist Laszlo Cseh (50.87) and Singapore star Joseph Schooling, who touched the wall in 50.96 for the bronze - the Republic's first ever swim medal on the world stage, and a new national record.
Phelps holds the world record of 49.82 and Busch thinks the winner of the event at next year's Olympics must at least clock a 50.20, although he thinks a new world mark is a genuine possibility.
Phelps, who announced his retirement after he won four golds at the 2012 Olympics in London, is not the first high-profile athlete to launch a comeback.
Perhaps only Michael Jordan has been as successful in a second coming.
Sean Hutchinson, a coach for Team USA in the 2008 Olympics and the brains behind the IKKOS training approach, is a close friend of Phelps and his famous swim tutor, Bob Bowman.
Comparing the American superstar to Mozart, he cited a rare combination of factors that pro-pelled Phelps' rise - starting with his older sister who was also a world champion swimmer before she injured her back at the 1996 Olympics.
Said Hutchinson: "The family already had the experience of a member becoming and being a champion. The swim club Michael came from (North Baltimore Aquatic Club) had multiple Olympic champions, it had a really a good system.
"There, he met Bob, a coach with a world-class education and a bigger, long-term vision than just winning one event.
"Now Michael was a big fan of Jordan growing up, and when he was about 11 or 12 years old, after Jordan had made his comeback, he read a quote from Jordan saying that when he went into the NBA his goal wasn't to be the best player - it was to change the sport.
"When Michael realised at 12 years old he was good at swimming, he made it his goal to change the sport of swimming.
"So when you combine all the factors, it's a perfect recipe to form a genius, and the more you run that system, the better you get.
"That's why he's special, just like Jordan."
Confidence is gold for Schooling
He became the first Asian to touch the wall in the 100m butterfly in less than 51 seconds at the world championships last month, and Singapore's Joseph Schooling is confident he can make a splash at the Rio Olympics next year.
And American swim team director Frank Busch has given Schooling his vote of confidence, as Singapore star targets a medal in Rio.
Busch (below), who was in town at the invitation of national swimming coach Sergio Lopez to speak at a seminar yesterday, said: "He's just a great talent. Did anyone really think he was going to get a medal at Kazan?
"Probably not, he was in one of the outside lanes, and goes on to win a bronze. You don't know when magic is going to happen.
"To make the podium at the world championships, there are only three people and there's thousands trying to get there, so I'd say that's pretty damn good."
Swimming in lane eight, Schooling touched the wall in 50.90, behind winner Chad le Clos (South Africa, 50.56) and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh (50.87).
With less than 11 months to Rio, Schooling must shave more tenths of a second off his personal best if he is to seriously challenge the likes of le Clos, Sceh and American superstar Michael Phelps.
So far, the training regimen Schooling is undergoing at the University of Texas under coach Eddie Reese seems to be working, said Busch.
"Whatever he's been doing its working, so it's not like you need a new formula. He just needs to do it one notch better, and be ready to go at that point in time," he said.
"He just medalled at the worlds, he's going to be a year stronger, a year smarter and a year more experienced.
"I think just being confident will help him compete against the others. There's no substitute for confidence and he's just had some great experience to build on that confidence."
Another speaker at the seminar was renowned American coach Sean Hutchinson, who created IKKOS - an innovative learning system using neuroscience research that rapidly teaches anyone who wants to learn physical movement in minutes.
Singapore swimming, he said, must be more than just Schooling in the long run and the inclusion of experienced coach Lopez is step in the right direction.
He said: "If Joseph medals and makes a couple of finals then Sergio's a hero, (but) the bigger purpose is helping Singapore swimming get better as a unit - working together, teaching, introducing the whole fraternity to the mindset of elite-level swimming.
"Bringing in Frank, myself, and coach Reese a few months ago, not to be egotistical, but that's a rare opportunity.
"The population of coaches here has had more access to Frank and I than anybody in the United States, because we're spread out over a big country and people are busy.
"The swimming fraternity here and everyone supporting them has to get behind the same message.
"If they do, it's going to have a huge impact.
"Next year for Schooling at the Olympics could be great, but five years from now it could be amazing, and that has to be the goal."