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Column by John Lohn
IRVINE, California, August 21. VERY few people have access to Bob Bowman's laboratory, where the mentor of Michael Phelps concocts the schedule that has made Phelps the greatest Olympian in history. Fewer individuals – clearly by design – have access to the plans devised by the North Baltimore Aquatic Club's expert scientist.
As the calendar creeps closer to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, little will be verbally revealed concerning Phelps' schedule. The biggest clues will come from the events Phelps contests, at which competitions and with what type of regularity. Based on what Mr. Olympia did Friday night, however, it can be deduced that a specific conversation between Phelps and Bowman is on tap.
Although his fitness level is not where it needs to be for races 200 meters in length, and especially the 400 distance (see medley performance), Phelps is carrying impressive speed. For the second time in two weeks, Phelps cracked the 51-second barrier in the 100 butterfly. Still, that effort took a backseat to what he unfurled in the 100 freestyle at the Pan Pacific Championships.
By now, most fans of the sport are aware that the Baltimore native led off the United States' 400 freestyle relay in 48.13, faster than Nathan Adrian's winning mark (48.15) in the championship final of the 100 free. That time by Phelps makes him No. 5 in the history of the event, trailing only Pieter van den Hoogenband (47.84), Stefan Nystrand (47.91), Alain Bernard (48.12) and Filippo Magnini (48.12).
The outing is also likely to spark a chat with Bowman about Phelps' future with the 100 freestyle. Does he include the event as part of his London program? If so, does training for that sprint event compromise any of his other endeavors? Does the schedule allow for the glamour event to be included in 2012?
Whatever Phelps and Bowman decide is their call, and will be kept under lock and key for a lengthy period of time. What is not a mystery is that Phelps has the ability to win the gold medal in the 100 free in London. Yes, what used to be largely viewed as a longshot, is more than realistic if Phelps heads in that direction.
"I'm probably in better sprinting shape than anything else," Phelps told Swimming World Saturday afternoon. "With the lifting I've done, there is speed and explosiveness. That's something that really helps out with the 100 (free)."
Phelps has done about a third of his typical training, according to Bowman. Yet, as he gets older and continues to follow his weightlifting regimen, he's gaining strength and power, attributes that transfer well to the two-lap freestyle. And with the 100 free considered one of the showcase events of the sport, if not atop the list, it wouldn't be surprising to see Phelps embrace it for the Olympics and attempt to add to his legacy.
There's little doubt the rest of the world is shrugging off Phelps' leadoff swim. It obliterated the winning time at the European Championships and will almost certainly end the year as the top time in the world for 2010. Bowman joked that rather than returning the 400 medley to the slate, the duo should have gone another way.
"That was totally his choice," Bowman said of the distance medley making a return. "After Nationals, he said he might as well take a shot at it. It was the same day as the 100 free, which wasn't on the program. But obviously, we should have had him in there."
If Phelps and Bowman decide to contest the 100 free in London, the semifinals of the discipline will precede the final of the 200 butterfly by two events. The only event in between would be the women's 200 freestyle, making for a tight timeline. Then again, after watching Phelps handle a 17-race workload in Beijing, we've learned he's capable of handling difficult doubles.
Which schedule Phelps adopts for the 2012 Games is a guessing game at this stage, both in terms of number of events and which ones. Certainly, he and Bowman have an idea what they'll do, and maybe even have a firm decision made. Maybe the 100 freestyle is already part of the mix. If it's not, figure on the pair chatting about the possibility, such was the thunder delivered by Phelps in Irvine.
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