Michael Phelps made an ominous start in his comeback to competitive swimming today, setting the fastest time in the 100 metres butterfly heats at a USA Swimming Grand Prix meet in suburban Phoenix.

Racing for the first time since he retired in a blaze of glory after the 2012 London Olympics with a staggering career total of 18 gold medals, a relaxed Phelps cruised to victory in 52.84 seconds.

His time was well outside the world record of 49.82 seconds he set at the 2009 World Championships but still safely under the qualifying time for this year's U.S. National Championships, which double as the selection event for next year's world titles in Russia.

"I actually felt pretty controlled," Phelps said. "I literally was just so excited to get in and race.
"It was fun to get the first race out of the way."