By Stephen J. Thomas
MONTREAL, Canada. July 22. IN just a couple of days, the standout male swimmers coming into this World Championships, American all-around superstar Michael Phelps and Aussie distance king Grant Hackett, will begin their respective programs on the first day in the same event, the 400 freestyle. Hackett will be swimming this event at his fourth consecutive WC’s, having taking the silver medal behind his absent countryman Ian Thorpe on each previous occasion while Phelps will be taking on the eight-lap freestyle for the first time at a major international meet.
Phelps will swim five individual events – 100/200/400 freestyle, 100 fly and 200 IM – and be part of all three relays. Both the 100 and 400 free are new events for the Baltimore Bullet, who has decided to switch from the tough 200 fly and 400 IM in which he is the reigning champ and world-record holder.
Hackett will swim four individual events – 200/400/800/1500 freestyle and the 800 relay – the identical program he swam in Barcelona for three gold, one silver and one bronze.
Over the eight days of competition Phelps will be swimming at least once every day while Hackett gets the bonus of a rest day on the fifth day of competition. If we reasonably assume that both swimmers make the final of each of their events and will be selected to swim just finals in the relays, their respective distances clocked will look like this. Hackett will swim ten races in his largely endurance-based program for a total distance of 6.2km while Phelps will hit the water a massive seventeen times for a total 3km.
Hackett is the top ranked swimmer globally in all his individual events in 2005 coming into Montreal. Phelps is ranked second in the 100 and 200 free and third in the 400 free while also holding the top spot in the 100 fly and 200 IM.
Hackett, the official captain of the Aussie team, originally intended to pass the opportunity to swim the individual 200 freestyle despite winning the event at the Aussie Trials. In many of his past campaigns at major meets the 25-year-old has struggled with illness while undertaking his tough program and it was seen as a sensible move to skip the ‘sprint’ event to concentrate on winning the trio of endurance events. However, with the late withdrawal of Athens silver medalist, Pieter van den Hoogenband, on top of the decision by world record-holder Ian Thorpe to skip this meet, Hackett reconsidered. Some observers Down Under think it’s a bad move and one driven partly by the dearth of other medal chances on the men’s side of the team. Nonetheless it should be a fascinating dual between Phelps and Hackett in the 200/400 races.
For Phelps, only just last month out of his teens, there is no shortage of other medal prospects among the U.S. men’s team, so the emphasis for him will be to touch the wall ahead of guys like Jason Lezak, Ian Crocker and Ryan Lochte rather than carrying the load largely on his own. Phelps’ toughest assignment looms as the 100 freestyle that happens to coincide with the 200 IM on days four and five of the program. There will be a number of experienced campaigners trained up for the sprint events and it will be a real challenge for him to get those fast twitch muscles into gear at night.
Champions make their own history and both Hackett and Phelps will no doubt continue to add to the book in the coming week.