Michael Phelps' return to competition ended with another humbling defeat, losing the 100 metre freestyle final to Frenchman Fred Bousquet at the Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix on Sunday.
After not conceding defeat in a year, Phelps' freestyle disappointment was his second loss in two days, underscoring the challenge the 23-year-old American faces to extend his dominance to the sprints.
After sweeping the 200m freestyle and 100m butterfly on Friday -- events he won at the Beijing Olympics -- Phelps stepped out of his comfort zone on Saturday for the 100m backstroke, and was soundly beaten by world record holder Aaron Peirsol in the final.
Despite the rust, Phelps said he was pleased with his first competitive hit-out since his record eight gold medal haul in Beijing.
"For my first meet back I have no complaints," Phelps told reporters. "We're on the right track.
"This is exactly where I want to be, some happy times and like tonight, some pretty frustrating times.
"But it's just something that will motivate me to fix those things over the next few weeks," Phelps said.
Bousquet, who set a world record in the 50m freestyle last month at the French national championships, set a blazing pace early in the 100m to win in 48.22 seconds, and never allowed Phelps to mount one of his patented charges.
"I need more of Fred's front half 50 speed," said Phelps, who visibly had trouble adjusting to a new straight-arm stroke he and his coach Bob Bowman had been toying with.
Bousquet, who owns the third fastest 100m freestyle time, said he knew he had to charge out of the blocks to beat the American.
"Whenever you race that guy you can't count on your back end speed to beat him," said Bousquet, the first swimmer to break through the 21-second barrier in the 50m free.
"That's impressive for him to go 49 and changing strokes a couple of times in a race. That's very impressive."
After a nine-month layoff, the longest of his career, Phelps had planned to use the Charlotte meet to gauge his fitness and start work on his programme for the 2012 London Games.
But less than two months before the US Championships in July, which serve as trials for the world championships in Rome later that month, the event also exposed the distance between Phelps and the world's best sprinters he hopes to be among.