INDIANAPOLIS -- Bob Bowman is back coaching after a nine-month hiatus.
At the first suggestion, however indirect, of his star former swimmer returning, Bowman broke out laughing.
“Whatever are you talking about?’’ Bowman said as Wednesday morning’s U.S. Championships prelims were ending at the Indiana University natatorium.
The answer, of course, is Michael Phelps coming back for a fifth Olympics. Even though the Rio de Janeiro Games are three years away, the timeline for Phelps to make a decision is potentially much sooner.
Bowman would prefer Phelps try to compete at the 2015 world championships if he intends to participate in the 2016 Olympics. The U.S. team for the 2015 worlds will be selected at the U.S. championships in Aug. 2014. To be eligible, Phelps must re-enter the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Registered Testing Pool six months in advance of any competition.
“I’m sure he kind of knows that,” Bowman said, laughing again.
Bowman said he and Phelps, 27, have had no formal discussions about a comeback for the greatest swimmer in history, winner of an Olympic record 18 gold and 22 total medals. He has been out of the sport since the 2012 Olympics.
“He can still do it physically now,” Bowman said. “He ought to at least think about it.”
Bowman said Phelps has been swimming some on his own, largely to counteract the effects of living the high life as America’s Guest. This is the first year since 1998 Phelps has not competed at either the summer nationals or an Olympic trials.
“He needs the swimming,” the coach said. “There’s only so much golf you can play.”
Winnetka’s Conor Dwyer, who recently moved from Florida to Baltimore to train with Bowman, had a wry smile when asked about the possibility of a Phelps comeback.
“I can’t say anything about that. I live with Michael,” said Dwyer, who also swam with Phelps on the gold-medal 4 x 200 free relay at the London Olympics.
If Phelps were to return, which a high-ranking U.S. sports administrator recently said was likely, Bowman said the swimmer probably would concentrate on events that would lead to relays, such as the 100- and 200-meter freestyles.
“If he does come back, it will be because he feels he needs direction,” Bowman said. “He is so goal-oriented.
“We have talked vaguely about what he could do. Maybe the relays. Maybe an individual event. By the looks of this meet, he could be competitive in some of his events.”
Other than a non-denial denial on Twitter, Phelps has made no public comment on the rumors of his return, which began about a month ago.
Bowman said Phelps’ reply to the coach’s questions about the rumors was, “I know, it’s pretty funny, right?’’ When they had dinner together a couple of months ago, Bowman said Phelps told him that he had been looking at recent results and said, “I could do that.”
There is little doubt that although Phelps already is quite wealthy, he would profit mightily from sponsor interest in an attempt for more Olympic medals.
But Bowman made it clear he doesn’t want a comeback to turn into the high-wire act that took place in the years leading up to the London Olympics. Phelps won four gold and two silver medals, but he had waited until the end of 2011 to get serious about training.
“There is a part of me that wants him to come back if he does it the right way. We did not do the last four years the right way,” Bowman said. “Even though it ended up OK, it could have been way better, and we all know that.
“But the process was so painful, I don’t want to do that again, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to do that again. That was a case where the end did not really justify the means for me.
“If he would want to come back and really get into it and work the way we know he can work, I think that would be fine. If he doesn’t, he should continue golfing.”Copyright © 2015, RedEye