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September 22, 2017

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Phelps falls to Lochte in first final of comeback

MESA, Arizona -- Michael Phelps finished second on Thursday in his first final in 20 months, and the swimming superstar famous for his will to win said even a runner-up finish is fun now.

Phelps, whose record 22 Olympic medals include an astonishing 18 golds, was beaten in the 100m butterfly final at the Mesa Grand Prix by his old foe Ryan Lochte.

But Phelps said he'd done what he set out to do in his first competition since the London Games.

Lochte led at the 50m mark and held on to win in 51.93sec — second-fastest in the world this year — while Phelps was second in 52.13, matching the fourth-fastest time of 2014.

"I did what I wanted to do," said Phelps, adding he'd targeted a time of 52 seconds.

"The race was fun," he added. "The stroke was a little rushed tonight, it was way more relaxed this morning. But I swam a final again."

Lochte, not known as a 100m fly swimmer, said Phelps, as always, made him better.

"I probably wouldn't have gone that time if Phelps wasn't in there," Lochte said. "I'm glad he's back."

Phelps insists he isn't yet sure if his comeback will take him to a fifth Games at Rio in 2016.

"This is one meet, it's one race," Phelps said. "It's a long way whether I decide to continue or not. I'm doing this because I'm having fun, I'm just enjoying myself on this road, this process, this journey."

But news of his comeback sparked a sell-out at every session of this week's meet at the 1,200-capacity Skyline Aquatic Center in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

Phelps's fellow swimmers were as thrilled as fans to see him back on the blocks.

That was particularly true of Lochte, who has had some memorable duels with his Olympic teammate.

"Racing against Michael is probably the hardest thing to do," Lochte said. "I love it.

"Him leaving, it kind of broke my heart a little. Racing against him is so much fun."

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