After wearing more gold around his neck than Mr. T last summer, then making like Cheech & Chong at a college party, Michael Phelps is back to being himself, jumping into the pool and training like a maniac.
Weeks after the Olympic phenom, still just 23, considered quitting the sport, he was back at the Loyola College Fitness and Aquatic Center in Baltimore, teasing his teammates, sporting a new mustache and punishing his body. The winner of eight gold medals at last summer's Olympics in Beijing said a four-month hiatus left him convinced he must compete again.
"I literally just woke up on a Sunday and wanted to swim another four years," Phelps told the Washington Post. "I don't know what it was, but it switched on in my head.
"During the break, I was up in the air about everything I wanted to do. I was like, 'Where do I go from here?' "
Staying in the water is probably Phelps' best bet for staying out of trouble. In January, a British tabloid ran a photo of Phelps smoking pot at a party in South Carolina. The bong hit earned him a three-month suspension from USA Swimming, cost him endorsements and briefly threatened to see him prosecuted by a zealous sheriff.
Next week, Phelps will compete for the first time since the Olympics when he swims at the Charlotte Ultraswim, a four-day, pro event that will draw an international field. Phelps will swim the 200-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly, as well as three other races.
His coach, Bob Bowman, said the new Phelps is grown up.
"He's different, he's really different," Bowman said. "I hate to use this word -- mature -- but the whole experience in Beijing has been eye-opening to say the least."