By Phillip Whitten
LONG BEACH, Calif., July 14. MICHAEL Phelps, teenage swimming superstar, made it official today: He will enter five individual events and as many as three relays at the Athens Olympic games in his quest to equal or surpass Mark Spitz’s seven Olympic gold medal-performance at the 1972 Games in Munich.
Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, the swimmer and his coach, Bob Bowman, listed the five individual events Phelps will contest: the 200-meter freestyle, 100- and 200-meter butterfly, and 200- and 400-meter individual medley.
Conspicuously missing was the 200-meter backstroke, an event in which Phelps is ranked number two in the world and in which he placed second on Monday behind Aaron Peirsol’s world record-setting performance.
“We’ve decided to save the 200 back for another opportunity somewhere down the road,” Phelps said.
The 19 year-old phenom added that the decision was not made because he was tired on Friday, when he swam three events in the evening. “Actually,” he said, “the farther through the week we got, the better I was feeling and the better my lactate readings were.
“It came down to the question: what is the best program we can do? And this is the program I feel most confident about.”
Bowman, Phelps’ coach, added: “Physically, Michael was fine on Monday. But the following day he really felt (the impact of swimming three races in less than an hour). Ian Crocker (who won the 100-m butterfly semis, then set a world record in finals) is hard to beat under any circumstances. So we want Michael to be at his best in Athens when they swim the 100 fly, which also has relay implications.”
Bryce Hunt, of Newburgh, Indiana and Auburn University, was immediately named as a replacement for Phelps. Hunt finished third in the 200-meter backstroke on Monday.
Phelps will contest the 200-meter freestyle, where he will lock horns with world record-holder Ian Thorpe and former world record-holder Grant Hackett, both of Australia; Pieter van den Hoogenband of The Netherlands; and his US teammate, Klete Keller.
It is entirely possible that Phelps might not even win a medal in the 200-meter freestyle, but the confident teenager says he relishes the challenge. “It will be an honor to race Thorpe in his best event and I look forward to it.”
Phelps competed in six events at these Trials in Long Beach, swimming a total of 17 races in six days. With his new programme, he will swim between 17-19 races over the course of eight days in Athens.
Here is how Phelps’ chances appear at the moment, assuming he swims all three relays for the USA at the Olympic Games:
200-m freestyle: Most likely outcome: Phelps gets bronze
100-m butterfly: World record-holder Ian Crocker is a slight favorite
200-m butterfly: Phelps is the overwhelming favorite
200-m indiv. med Phelps should win in a breeze
400-m indiv. med. Phelps should win, lowering his own world record.
4×100-m free relay US, Australia, Russia, South Africa battle for gold
8×200-m free relay: US and Australia contend for gold; Aussies are slight favorites.
4×100-m med. relay: US ha a lock on the gold
Likely medal count: Five gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze; or
Four gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze