(Reuters) - Michael Phelps's coach Bob Bowman says the two will assess the 18-times Olympic gold medalist's chances of qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics after this week's U.S. national championships.
Phelps, the world record holder in the 100 meters and 200m fly and the 400m individual medley, retired after the 2012 London Games but made his return to competition in April.
"We will see how it goes this week and maybe, if there is anything after that, we will see how it goes and go from there," Bowman, who said the Aug. 6-10 nationals would show how much progress the 29-year-old has made on his comeback trail, told reporters on Tuesday.
"I don't think we will really know until after this week. After this week we will have a pretty good picture of if he is ahead or if he is behind."
Phelps's view of his current form was vague: "It could be better, it could be worse," he told reporters.
Phelps will compete in the 100m freestyle, 100m butterfly, 100m backstroke and 200m individual medley in Irvine.
If those go well, he will head to Australia later this month for the Pan Pacific Championships with an eye already on next year's world championships in Russia.
But while Phelps and Bowman may be deliberately keeping expectations low and avoiding too much talk about Rio, the swimmer's actions indicate an athlete who is working hard to get back to his best.
The swimmer was well over his competing weight when he returned from his break from the sport but says he has adjusted his diet to get back in shape.
"I was thirty pounds heavier than I am now when I got back in the water. ... I was eating whatever I wanted and I wasn't exercising but I knew that to be able to get back into the shape I wanted to be in, something had to change," he said.
"I had to start putting better, cleaner food into my system. I actually went through a phase where I cut out red meat for six months just to see what it would do. I was eating more chicken, more fish, more salads just eating cleaner and fresher. I saw a little bit of difference and I’ve started sort of gradually adding red meat here and there."
Phelps said he was particularly looking forward to the 100m backstroke – an event in which he has rarely featured.
"Because of the way the schedules at events have been it is something we've never done and so we will try it now. It hurts more that's for sure, in your legs," he said. "But its more exciting for me having a different event, a fun event, that I haven’t really been able to do before."
Bowman said he was glad to see that Phelps had come back for the right reasons.
"I don’t think he is doing it because he is bored and there is nothing else to do, I think he is doing it because there is some unfinished business he thinks he can accomplish.
"When he first came to me, I was 'what is going on? There is no way you should do this.' Because he was so unhappy going into London. I haven’t seen any of that now so it is good”.
Phelps smiled at the reference to “unfinished business” but declined to elaborate on what that might mean.
“There are always things I still want to do and still want to achieve and that is part of the reason that I am still here. You are not going to get what it is,” he said with a grin.
(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)