Michael Phelps lunged to the wall, popped his head out of the water, and turned immediately toward the scoreboard.
There was a "1" beside his name.
Felt pretty good.
For the first time since his supposed farewell at the 2012 London Olympics, Phelps was on top of the podium Friday night. He cruised to victory in the 100-meter butterfly at the Charlotte Grand Prix, while longtime rival Ryan Lochte watched from the VIP area, a brace on his injured left knee.
Phelps made it through a grueling double in the morning prelims, also swimming the 200 freestyle, then limited himself to one race in the evening. While he didn't improve on the time from the first meet in his comeback, when he finished second to Lochte at Mesa, Arizona, last month, it was another big step toward competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
If nothing else, Phelps showed he still knows how to get to the wall first.
"It's been a while," he said. "It's nice seeing the first place next to your name. It's good to be on that side of it again. That's my first one since I came back. Hopefully, we can get a string of those."
Going out strong and remaining comfortably ahead on the return leg, Phelps cruised to victory in 52.13 seconds, about a half body-length ahead of runner-up Pavel Sankovich, a 2012 Olympian from Belarus.
He's about to hurt even more. Phelps will head to a month of high-altitude training in Colorado next week, looking to improve his endurance, and he plans to swim a more extensive program at the final Grand Prix meet of the season at Santa Clara, California, in late June. He'll likely stick with the 100 fly, perhaps try another 200 free and maybe bring back another of his signature events, the 200 individual medley reports ESPN.