Updated: Saturday, 26 April 2014 04:00 | By Agence France-Presse

Phelps freewheeling as comeback continues

With his first competitive event in 20 months under his belt, Michael Phelps mixed things up on Friday in the heats of the 50m freestyle at the Mesa Grand Prix.

Phelps freewheeling as comeback continues

Michael Phelps competes in the Men's 50m Freestyle during day two of the Arena Grand Prix at the Skyline Aquatic Center on April 25, 2014 in Mesa, Arizona - by Christian Petersen

The Olympic legend opted to swim butterfly in the 50m free preliminaries, making it more of a training run than a race.

His time of 24.06 put him seventh in his heat and 42nd overall, but coach Bob Bowman had indicated they hoped it would give Phelps a chance to polish his technique and gauge his speed over one lap of butterfly.

"The 50 is kind of weird," said Phelps, an 18-time Olympic gold medallist who despite his myriad achievements has never been known for his prowess in the one-lap sprints.

"Bob said this could be the first and last of your career, and I said 'OK,'" Phelps said of his decision to swim it.

The event came a day after Phelps launched his comeback to competition with a runner-up finish behind old rival Ryan Lochte in the 100m butterfly.

He had won his heat on Thursday morning, posting the fastest qualifying time in his first race since the London Games.

Phelps is the world record-holder and three-time reigning Olympic champion in the 100m fly, but his final against Lochte was marred by technical flaws -- an average start and a poor turn -- that he and coach Bob Bowman said he'd soon be able to clean up.

Fans at the 1,200-capacity Skyline Aquatic Center in suburban Phoenix were just happy to get another glimpse of their hero on Friday, busily snapping photos before, during and after the race in which he swam in lane eight -- a less favorable outside lane that goes to lower-seeded swimmers and just a few meters from the nearest spectators.

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