By Brent Rutemiller
OMAHA, Nebraska. June 23. MICHAEL Phelps and Bob Bowman met with the press today, two days before the United States Olympic Swimming Trials begin in Omaha on Monday.
Phelps would not commit to swimming the 400 IM on Monday as he played coy with the press, which peppered him with questions about the event. “I have a few more hours before I have to make that decision,” said Phelps.
The 400 IM is the first event on Phelps's schedule and he has yet to publicly commit to swimming it. Phelps is the current world record holder in the event, setting the mark of 4:03.84 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Ryan Lochte wants to race Phelps. Lochte has trained continuously since he earned bronze behind Phelps and Laszlo Cseh four years ago in Beijing. They have not matched strokes in the 400 IM since.
The 400 IM could be Phelps' and Lochte's first mano-a-mano race in Omaha.
Phelps spoke to the press today while sporting a mustache. One clever reporter asked when Phelps was planning on shaving. “I shave it when I shave it,” Phelps said playfully. He realized that if he told the press the exact date of his shave, the media would know when his first event would be contested.
Both Phelps and Bowman tried to steer the conversation away from the 400 IM question by talking about training. But the subject circled back in a comical way when Bowman said that Phelps's breaststroke has improved dramatically. Realizing immediately that he only swims breaststroke in the IMs, Phelps quickly pointed out to laughter in the crowd that it was his breaststroke in the 200 IM that has improved.
The media circled one last time to get an answer by phrasing the question as a challenge. Phelps has repeatedly stated that he wants to “do what nobody has accomplished.” On that theme, it was pointed that an Olympic gold in the 400 IM would make Phelps the first male athlete to win the same event in three consecutive Olympics. Phelps saw it coming and still did not take the bait. He simply acknowledged that he was aware of the feat by nodding his head.
It was classic Michael Phelps. He was poised, confident and playful while never showing all his cards.
Prior to the Phelps and Bowman press conference, Ryan Lochte took the stage with equal confidence in his ability to beat any swimmer in the world, including Phelps.
Lochte came across as a man who did his work, paid the price and was ready to race Michael Phelps. “He is the greatest Olympic athlete of all time. I love to race him. It is fun,” said Lochte.
Medals, money and fame mean nothing to Lochte at this point in his career. When asked if he hopes Michael Phelps swims the 400 IM, Lochte said, “I hope so!”
We will know the answer by Sunday evening, when the scratch box closes and all races entries are finalized for the Monday's races.
Watch the Phelps and Bowman press conference clips by visiting Swimming World's U.S. Swimming Trials landing page.