IRVINE: Michael Phelps` lack of focus in wake of the 2009 World Championships drove Bob Bowman to distraction, but the perfectionist coach thinks the virtual vacation was vital to the swimming star`s continuing career.
"If we wanted him to swim into London, we had to have this year," Bowman said of Phelps` intention of competing through the 2012 Olympics. "Otherwise, he wouldn`t have made it."
By his own account, Phelps arrived here at this week`s US Championships under-prepared, nowhere near the form that saw him garner an unprecedented eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
He has won six US Grand Prix races in 2010 and won two races at the Paris Open in June, but has professed himself less than satisfied with his times.
That was true again on Wednesday night, when he won both the 200m free and 200m butterfly to secure his place on the team for the upcoming Pan Pacific Championships, but said the double was painful duty.
Phelps has three more events to go in the championships, which are the selection meet for the Pan Pacific Championships later this month.
Times from the two meetings will determine the US team for next year`s World Championships.
Phelps admits he`s paying for a less-than-dedicated approach to training.
But the 25-year-old said the time away from the pool allowed him to "get back a couple of things I lost" when his life was ruled by his pool regimen.
Phelps didn`t go into specifics, but Bowman said the swimmer is "more mature".
"He`s a lot more stable, and I think he has learned a lot about his relationships in general," Bowman said.
Bowman said Phelps had certainly earned a break, noting that Phelps didn`t let up for a decade as he built the foundation for his triumphant Beijing campaign. His achievements there catapulted him to a new level of fame.
Then, in February 2009, came what Bowman called "The Incident" in which a British tabloid published a photo of Phelps holding a marijuana pipe - a lapse in judgment that saw him slapped with a three-month ban by USA Swimming.
Then came the World Championships amid the swirl of controversy over the now-banned bodysuits.
"It was a whole year of turmoil after 10 years of back-breaking labor," Bowman said.
However, Bowman admitted his sympathy was stretched almost to the breaking point as the months rolled on and Phelps failed to display a real commitment to training.
"I run my 100 percent programme - he was on another programme," said Bowman, who said Phelps trained in the pool for perhaps the total of a week in November.
Bowman, who has coached Phelps since he was a youngster, said the situation reached what he saw as an "either-or" moment, especially as he saw Phelps` approach affecting other swimmers in their North Baltimore group.
"It affects everybody, not just Michael," Bowman said. "He can`t just drop in and drop out."
Bowman noticed a change when the two visited the Vancouver Olympics in February and Phelps got a glimpse of other athletes basking in Games glory.
"You could see he was getting back into it," Bowman said.
Bowman got another signal on Monday night, when he was impressed by Phelps` analysis of how the 400m medley final would shape up.
Phelps, who didn`t have a race on Monday, watched as Ryan Lochte defeated Tyler Clary, their battle playing out just as Phelps predicted.
"He was interested," Bowman said. "That`s good."
BDST: 1654 HRS, AUGUST 05, 2010