Michael Phelps returns from suspension, ready to race

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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BALTIMORE - Michael Phelps' three-month suspension from competition is now over and he marked the occasion like any other day: He woke up late and headed to the pool.
Speaking exclusively with The Associated Press, Phelps said he didn't even realize his suspension ended Tuesday. Coach Bob Bowman couldn't resist making a joke, saying he planned to enter his star swimmer in a meet later that night.
''I had no idea,'' Phelps said of his ban, which was doled out by USA Swimming after a picture surfaced in a London tabloid showing him inhaling from a marijuana pipe.
Actually, he'll return to competition next week at a meet in Charlotte, N.C. It will be his first time swimming competitively since winning eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.
''I'm happy to be back in the water and be back in semi-shape,'' said Phelps, who's lost almost 20 pounds in last two months. ''I'm sort of getting back into racing shape and getting ready to race my first race since Beijing. We'll see how it's goes.
''I'm happy to have some structure back in my life,'' he added.
Phelps said he considered retiring from the sport after the picture surfaced. After all, he already broke Mark Spitz's 36-year-old record of seven gold medals and became the winningest Olympian ever with 14 golds.
But after writing down the pros and cons of resuming his career, Phelps decided to get back in the water. He's not concerned what the photo did to his image.
''It was a stupid mistake that I made,'' he said during an interview on the deck of the pool at Loyola College in his native Baltimore. ''But I'll have what I've accomplished in and out of the pool for the rest of my life. I'm satisfied with what I've done and happy with what I've done.''
Phelps said the whole experience has ''shown me who my real friends are. It's also given me a lot of time to think. Pretty much since Beijing ended, I didn't really know what I wanted to do.''
After going into virtual seclusion for nearly a month after the photo surfaced, Phelps called Bowman on March 1 - the coach remembers the day vividly - and said simply, ''I'm doing it.''
''I was not really concerned whether he would quit or not,'' Bowman said. ''I was concerned that if he did quit, that he did it for the right reasons. Otherwise, it would just be a joke. I have told him, 'You've done all there is to do. If you quit today, you're the greatest of all time. You can walk away.' But I did think it would be bad if he walked away because of this thing. He should go on his own terms.''

Organizations: Loyola College, The Associated Press, Beijing Olympics

Geographic location: BALTIMORE, Beijing, London Charlotte, N.C.

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