By John Lohn
AUSTIN, Texas, March 1. GUESS who’s back, and looking to expand an already mind-boggling arsenal? Yes, Michael Phelps is set to return to the competitive waters this week and could be in position to nail down a couple of American records in short-course yardage disciplines.
Phelps is one of a number of Olympians who will race Thursday through Saturday at the American Short Course Championships, to be held at the University of Texas. The eight-time Olympic medalist will contest five individual races, including one departure from the norm.
Representing Club Wolverine, Phelps will swim the 200 freestyle and 400 individual medley on Thursday, the 200 breaststroke on Friday and the 100 free and 200 I.M. on Saturday. The 200 breast is the unique event for Phelps, who is expected to clash with Brendan Hansen, the world-record holder in the long-course versions of the 100 and 200 breast events.
A three-time Olympic medalist, Hansen will be competing on his home turf, as the University of Texas product represents Longhorn Aquatics. Hansen is the American-record holder in the 200-yard breast and finished his collegiate days last year with career sweeps of the breast events at the NCAA Championships. He’ll also swim the 200 I.M.
Hansen is the favorite to win both breast events at this weekend’s meet and is in preparation for next month’s World Championship Trials in Indianapolis. This summer, Hansen and Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima are expected to rekindle their rivalry at the World Champs in Montreal. Aside from claiming three Olympic medals, Hansen won four gold medals at the World Short Course Championships last October.
By tackling the 200 breast in Austin, Phelps is following through on his indications that he and coach Bob Bowman are intent on broadening his repertoire. Phelps has been tight-lipped regarding his schedule for the World Championship Trials, but has suggested that he is looking to explore different events.
While the 200 breast is different for Phelps, the 100 free also qualifies as an event upon which the standout has not focused. Still, in his dabblings with the event, he has proven to be one of America’s top talents over the distance.
In the three other events on Phelps’ agenda, there’s a chance the six-time Olympic gold medalist could take down American records in each. Such is the talent that runs through Phelps’ body. Phelps is chasing Tom Dolan in the 400 I.M. (3:38.18), Ryan Lochte in the 200 I.M. (1:41.76) and Matt Biondi (1:33.03) in the 200 free. Lochte’s record was set less than two weeks ago at the SEC Championships. Meanwhile, Britain’s Simon Burnett (1:32.22) has the overall record in the 200 free, set at the Texas Invitational in December.
In addition to Phelps and Hansen, a handful of other Olympians will be competing in Austin, including Ian Crocker and Aaron Peirsol. The Texas products, also with Longhorn Aquatics, are scheduled to swim four individual events each. Crocker is expected to go in the 50 and 100 freestyles, the 100 fly and 100 back while Peirsol is looking at the 100 and 200 backstrokes, 200 fly and 200 I.M. Peirsol may make a run at regaining his American record in the 200 back, which was taken by Lochte at the SEC Champs.
Natalie Coughlin and Klete Keller are each entered in a number of events. Coughlin is listed in the 100 and 200 freestyles, the 200 I.M., 100 back and 100 fly. Keller is entered in the 200, 500 and 1,650 freestyles. Other headliners in the meet include Neil Walker, Nate Dusing, Chris Thompson, Mark Gangloff and Nick Brunelli.