The US Olympic swimming trials still get Michael Phelps's synapses firing, even though the Games great has nothing on the line at the pressure-packed meeting.
Phelps is at the trials in Omaha as an honored spectator, but after five Olympic campaigns that yielded an astonishing 28 medals—23 of them gold—Phelps said being on the deck in Omaha, Nebraska, gave him chills.
"Walking on the pool deck I had to take deep breaths, I felt chills going up my body."
Phelps said he even felt a few tears rising -- and somehow all those years of preparation for and competing at trials -- this is the first edition of the qualifying meet since 1996 in which he hasn't featured -- kicked in.
"Body-wise, I'm almost ready," Phelps said Monday. "Put me in there, let me do a time trial or something. This is all I know and all I've really understood."
In fact, Phelps said, he's not sorry to be missing the nerves and pressure, the warming up and warming down, the blood tests for lactic acid, massages, and difficulty of just scheduling meals.
"But I will say it got a lot of things firing inside me last night," Phelps said. "It really excited me.
"It was probably more emotional than I thought. I haven't been to many of these larger stakes meets live for a long time.
Phelps, 35, has a ringside seat in Omaha to watch a generation of swimmers he inspired.
But right out of the gate on Sunday, Phelps was treated to a 400m individual medley final in which his former training partner and friend Chase Kalisz edged Jay Litherland in a repeat of their finish in the 2016 trials.
"It was overwhelming the first night, but in a very positive way," Phelps said.
Phelps said that even five years after his farewell Games in Rio de Janeiro, he's not sure he has fully assimilated his accomplishments -- which include his record eight-gold haul in 2008 in Beijing.
"I can think back to (being) a little kid and wanting the opportunity to swim on one Olympic team and maybe win one medal.
"Twenty-eight Olympic medals, that's still weird," he said. "That hasn't totally sunk in yet."
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