Michael Phelps may be setting himself up for a comeback.
The 27-year-old, who retired after the London Olympics, has joined the U.S. drug testing program, paving the way to potentially compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“If I decide to keep going and swim again, then I’ll compete,” Phelps told the AP in an exclusive telephone interview from Minneapolis, where he is attending an Arena Grand Prix meet this weekend.
Phelps was drug-tested twice in the period ending Sept. 30 and will be eligible to compete in March, according to his former coach Bob Bowman.
By going through the drug-testing process, Phelps has given himself time to prepare for the next major swim meet, the 2015 world championships in Russia, a tune-up for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro the following summer.
Phelps, who is the most decorated athlete in Olympic history with 18 gold medals and 22 overall in three Summer Games, attended the world championships in Barcelona this past summer, further fueling speculation that he was priming for a return to competition.
“I just wanted to come up here and see how a meet was,” he said of the Arena Grand Prix (via Associated Press.) “This is kind of like a normal meet. Barcelona was not a normal meet. That’s a big boy meet. Just being around this is exciting for me. It really has been a part of my life ever since I was a kid.”
But Bowman told USA TODAY Sports that nothing has been planned.
“We don’t have anything picked out, we don’t have anything planned,” Bowman said. “I don’t think we have designs on Rio at this time, but I want to give him a chance to get back into competition if he’d like to.”
Phelps will be 31 when he competes at Rio if he chooses to do so, which would be a year older than the age Australian Ian Thorpe was when he attempted his Olympic comeback last March.
But for now, Phelps is just swimming to get in shape.
“To be perfectly honest, he’s not anywhere near being able to compete in a meet or anything like that,” Bowman said (via the Associated Press.) We’re just getting started on improving his fitness. We’ll see where that goes.”