Since 2007, Phelps has made a habit of posting absolutely blazing times in the lead-up to his taper meet. In 2007, he clipped his own 200 fly world record at the Missouri Grand Prix, a mere six weeks out from Worlds, where he walloped another second and a half off the mark. In 2008, he had posted world-leading times in the 200 free (1:45.71), 200 fly (1:53.31), and 200 IM (1:57.39) by early March, all of which stood until the U.S. Olympic Trials began. Within the next three months before Trials, he added a top-ranked time in the 100 fly (51.04), second-ranked 100 back (53.42), and third-ranked 200 back (1:55.84).
As Phelps tuned up throughout the year for his historic performance in Beijing, one event just wasn't clicking. At the Missouri Grand Prix, Phelps swam a failed to break 4:14, finishing nearly three seconds off his meet record of 4:11.30 from the previous year, which had come just before setting a stunning world record of 4:06.22 at the Worlds in Melbourne. He made gradual improvement throughout the season, posting a 4:13-mid by the Santa Clara Grand Prix, but he was still dissatisfied, claiming that his backstroke felt off. Later in the meet, he beat Aaron Peirsol in the 100 back. Obviously no problem with the backstroke.
At the Olympic Trials, Phelps swam a season-best of 4:13.43 in prelims, finishing behind rival Ryan Lochte's 4:13.38. He freely acknowledged not being happy with the swim and he later admitted his heart rate and lactate skyrocketed after the swim, clearly indicating nervousness going into the event final. In any case, his struggles throughout the season and prelims quickly evaporated as the final came around. In a very memorable race, Phelps went out quickly on the fly and moved ahead of his world record pace by the first 50 of backstroke. He would remain under pace for the remainder of the race, but Lochte pulled even on the breaststroke. Phelps, however, put Lochte in his place with an amazing kickout of the final wall, and he posted a world record-time of 4:05.25 for the win, with Lochte coming in second at 4:06.08, also under Phelps' prior record. Phelps improved to 4:03.84 for gold in Beijing, more than ten seconds faster than his time from the Missouri meet.
So what does this have to do with his present situation? After the Paris Open, where he claimed to be, once again, disappointed with his swims, Phelps claimed he had not done the necessary work to make improvements. He did improve on his season-bests in the 200 fly (1:55.70), 200 free (1:47.54), and 100 free (49.44). Perhaps, though, he has done the work, but it hasn't clicked yet. Clearly, in 2008, things didn't click in the 400 IM until the right time, but he still managed to post one of the most impressive swims ever seen at the Beijing Olympics. He could still be waiting for his work to pay off, and after ten years of constant perfection from Phelps, there are few reasons to believe this summer will turn out much different.