PHOENIX - Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps won the 100m butterfly at the Mesa Pro Series on Thursday, his first competitive event since August.
Phelps, whose 18 Olympic gold medals include three in the 100m fly, said it was a step in the right direction as he homes in on a 2016 Rio Olympics berth.
His win comes after a drunk-driving arrest in September that brought him a one-year suspended sentence and a six-month ban from USA Swimming.
"It does feel good to be back," said Phelps, who clocked 52.38secs to finish ahead of longtime rival Ryan Lochte (53.11) and Tom Shields (53.18).
Fans in Mesa were less raucous than the crowds that cheered him last year when he returned from a nearly two-year retirement at the meeting in suburban Phoenix.
But there was plenty of support for Phelps as he strode to the blocks in one of the new Xpresso racing suits that he helped manufacturer Aqua Sphere design.
Phelps's arrest in Baltimore was followed by a stint in rehab, and he was axed from the US team for this year's World Championships in Kazan, Russia.
But Phelps says he has emerged with a better understanding of himself as a person and that his new perspective has renewed his passion for his sport.
While perhaps not thrilled with his performance, Phelps said it was a "good starting point." "First race back, it's OK," he said.
Phelps entered five events this week, with the 100m backstroke and 400m freestyle remaining for him on Friday and the 200m individual medley on Saturday.