Michael Phelps' first couple of swims at the Charlotte UltraSwim Friday morning went about as expected. Obviously taking it easy, Phelps cruised into tonight's final of the 100 butterfly and the 200 freestyle.
What was unexpected was seeing Phelps laugh out loud at the starting blocks just before his qualifying heat of the 200 free began. Normally he is completely serious in those moments.
Why did he laugh? "When I pulled my suit," Phelps said of the moment before his race began, "I found a little hole in the top part of my suit. I was laughing at that, hoping it wasn’t going to rip when I bent down to start."
It didn't. The hole in Phelps' suit was so tiny that it was pretty much unnoticed by the 1,000 or so people inside the Mecklenburg Aquatic Center. It wasn't nearly as big as, say, the hole in the back of Jake Delhomme's uniform pants in that Panthers game awhile back. That one was rated PG-13.
Phelps' coach Bob Bowman said his star swimmer continues to be somewhat awed at the attention his return to swimming has generated.
Said Bowman of Phelps: "I think he said something to me like, ‘Are there really five cameras in my face at the Charlotte UltraSwim? I didn’t even have that at the Olympics.’”
I think Phelps will lose once in Charlotte rather than go a perfect 4-for-4 in finals -- I wrote about the reasons why here in today's column.
But he looked very fit today, and there are some very knowledgeable swim experts here in Charlotte who think Phelps will win every event in which he races the final. It should be fun to see. Phelps had the third-fastest time in each of his preliminaries Friday, but that doesn't matter. He's still the overwhelming favorite in both of tonight's events -- the playing field will be more even for his events Saturday and Sunday, however.
Also tonight, Charlotte's Mark Gangloff qualified No.1 in the 100 breaststroke. He should have a spirited final against Eric Shanteau, with several other swimmers also a threat.
In the 200 freestyle, Matt Patton of Charlotte (who now swims for Club Wolverine out of Michigan) also made the final and will be seeded No.8. Scot Robison of Charlotte (now a fine collegiate swimmer at Virginia) had the ninth-best time and also might sneak in the final if someone in the top eight has to drop out.
General admission tickets for tonight's finals at the Charlotte UltraSwim are sold out.