Ed Moses, who attended Lake Braddock High School and the University of Virginia, is shown at the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials. (Donald Miralle/GETTY IMAGES)

Back in the glory days, when he was the nation’s top breast stroker and a world-record holder, Ed Moses didn’t aspire to anything less than record times and first place. Now, 11 years removed from the Olympic gold and silver medals he won at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, in the 10th month of a return to the sport after five years of no swimming whatsoever, Moses measures his progress by entirely different standards.

Did he advance to the eight-swimmer final? Did he get faster, even a little? Does he hurt as much as yesterday?

Moses, 31, a graduate of Lake Braddock High and a former swimmer with the local Curl-Burke swim club, has endured physical pain, embarrassment, frustration and constant second-guessing in his quest to make the 2012 Olympic team seven years after he last swam competitively. The process has been rough.

“That has to be the perfect word,” he said by phone from Fullerton, Calif., last week, days after finishing eighth in the 200-meter breast at the U.S. short-course national championships in Atlanta. “The hours you have to train to become a swimmer are just so many, and they are so monotonous. It wasn’t one year I wasn’t swimming, it wasn’t two years, it was five years of me not getting in a pool.

“My time is ticking. I can’t be wasting any time now.”

When Moses trained for the 2000 Summer Games as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, he displayed the single-minded focus and supreme discipline of the son of a military father. More than a decade later, Moses has become a serial dabbler, constantly seeking new and harder tests. He retired from swimming in 2004 after missing the cut for his second U.S. Olympic team, then waged an unsuccessful attempt to break onto the PGA Tour. After years on the links, he accepted an executive post at a start-up entertainment company in Burbank, Calif., then tried his hand at rap music and reality television while returning to swimming full-time, eyeing the London Games.

“I don’t think anybody out there besides my family, close friends and coach think I can make it,” Moses said.

Moses’s comeback has been chronicled in a reality show called “Against the Tide,” which will air for five straight nights beginning 9 p.m. Wednesday on Universal Sports. Moses, who helped put together a tongue-in-cheek rap swimming videoto promote the show with three training partners and Towson swimmer Katie Hoff, got back in the water with the world’s most elite group of breast strokers under Dave Salo in Irvine, Calif. But he eventually moved to Jon Urbanchek in Fullerton for more personal attention — something he felt he needed with so much work to do.

After warming up at a host of masters competitions, Moses showed up to the U.S. summer national championships in August in Palo Alto, Calif., an event many of the top Americans skipped because it took place just after the world championships in Shanghai. Even so, Moses got schooled: He finished 17th in the 100 breast and 16th in the 200 breast.

Three months later at the Minneapolis Grand Prix, an international meet that attracts some top swimmers, he finished 15th and 17th — nearly four seconds off of his best time in the 100 (1:00.21) and 10 seconds slower than his best in the 200 (2:10.40).

He found himself utterly disgusted.

“If people see you swim like this, they’re going to think this is an absolute joke,” he recalled thinking.

At the U.S. short-course (25-meter pool) championships in Atlanta just more than a week ago, Moses, finally, experienced an epiphany. Though he finished 22nd in the 100 breast stroke with a time of 1:02.11, he finished eighth in the 200 breast in 2:14.50. Brendan Hansen won the race in 2:09.64; Eric Shanteau got second in 2:11.28.

For the first time in a long time, Moses made an elite event final. He felt competitive.

“That was a breakthrough,” Moses said. “I got to the final. I raced the best, stood toe to toe with them and said I could be in this race. That bridged a mental and physical gap. I do have a shot this year.”