Officials Potentially Impact Michael Phelps, Tae Hwan Park

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Guest editorial by John Craig

LONDON, England, July 29. THERE's no way that Michael Phelps could swim a 400 IM at Trials four weeks ago in 4:07.8 while not even fully peaked, and then, fully tapered, go a 4:09.2 in London unless something was organically wrong with him.

I vaguely remember reading recently that Phelps had his blood drawn by three different anti-doping agencies in one week. If each of them drew one decent-sized test tube's worth, that adds up to some fairly severe reverse blood doping.

There are a lot of people who would pooh-pooh an effect like that. But in fact, for any finely-tuned athlete who constantly works out in hopes of taking a gaining a slight edge in conditioning, a small difference in the number of red blood corpuscles in his body does make a difference. For one who trains at altitude and even sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber, even more so.

And the events in which the difference will be most keenly felt will be the longer more aerobically-based ones, like the 400 IM.

The different governing bodies in sport all supposedly conduct their tests randomly. But if all three happened to descend on Phelps in a short time frame right before the Olympics, that's just plain bad luck. And maybe bad coordination.

If that was in fact the case, expect to hear something about it from Bob Bowman in the near future.

Of course, there's always an alternative explanation: maybe Phelps just isn't a big meet swimmer.

By the way, we'll know soon enough whether this theory is true. If it is, Phelps will perform noticeably better in his sprint events, the 400 free relay and the 100 fly.

Speaking of finely-tuned athletes, it seemed a big injustice that defending champion Tae Hwan Park was disqualified for no good reason during the heats of the 400 free. He was reinstated after a review of the videotapes, but that process took several hours.

Meanwhile, Park was in shock. Even though he got to swim his event that evening, who knows how much he was affected by this. Did he warm down after the heats properly? Did he eat at the right time after his event? Did he digest his food as well as he would have had he felt more relaxed? Was he able to rest calmly and recuperate in the eight hours between heats and finals, or was he too distraught?

He ended up winning silver, which doesn't sound too bad. But he had been expected to engage in a close duel with China's Sun Yang, and when Yang began his last 100 sprint, Park had no answer. Would it have been different had he not gone through this turmoil?

We'll never know for sure, but it's hard to believe it wouldn't have been.

In both of these cases, officials seem to have influenced the outcome.

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