Michael Phelps Gets Back to Work

Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps returns to competing.

ByABC News
May 16, 2009, 5:45 PM

May 16, 2009 — -- Olympic champion Michael Phelps is testing the waters this weekend for the first time since he won a record eight gold medals last summer.

Today in North Carolina at the Charlotte Ultraswim, the public caught a glimpse of Phelps competing in his newest challenge -- the 50 meters.

"I don't even know how to swim a 50, I don't know what to do," Phelps joked. Phelps finished eighth in the 50 meter preliminaries today.

"The stroke felt fine. I've got a lot to learn," Phelps told ABC News.

After Phelps' record haul of gold medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics, he is no stranger to victory. Friday night Phelps won the 200 meter and the butterfly.

But today he showed some of the rust that might have accumulated during the three-month suspension ordered by USA Swimming after a photograph surfaced in British tabloid News of the World showing him smoking marijuana from a bong.

Phelps suffered his first defeat in nearly a year, losing to world-record holder and two-time Olympic champion Aaron Peirsol in the 100-meter backstroke at the Charlotte UltraSwim.

There's little shame in losing to a competitor of Peirsol's caliber, but even so, as Phelps prepares for shorter races in 2012, he's back in the pool polishing his form.

Perhaps Phelps' biggest hurdle will be polishing his image since hitting rough waters after Beijing. He's diving back into the public eye following a three-month

"Michael, so revered as an all-American boy, then the fall from grace," Christine Brennan, a sports columnist at USA Today told ABC News. "Now he's back in his swim trunks and trying to get not only back in the pool, but back in the good graces of American sports fans."

Phelps has repeatedly apologized for the photograph.

For some fans, it is a lesson learned for the athlete whom they still admire. Julie Roper and her granddaughter, from Tennessee, received the trip to see Phelps compete as a birthday present.

"I've tried to tell her that we all make mistakes, and hopefully we learn from them and move on, and hopefully we don't make that mistake again," Roper told ABC News.