PHOENIX, Arizona, April 14. BY now you’ve surely heard of the big news of the day, that Michael Phelps is officially, 100 percent, without a doubt, bet your life on it, making a comeback and racing next week at the Arena Grand Prix in Mesa, Arizona.
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Since the announcement came before we taped this episode, it was considered for our list of the top five swimming headlines of the week. And it’s a no-brainer that it’s our number one headline of the week. We’ll get to that at the end of the show, but we’ve got four other headlines to discuss with you. And let’s get started with a swimming legend who is retiring from the sport.
Last week, Stephanie Rice announced that she was ending her professional swimming career, though she hadn’t been a part of the Australian national team since the 2012 Olympics. Rice made herself known at the 2008 Olympics when she won both individual medleys and the 800 free relay. She continued to be near the top of the global standings through the next four years, but could never capture gold again as the suit era of 2009 and the emergence of new talent in Australia after that caught up to her. She also had shoulder surgeries that likely had an effect on getting back to the form she needed to race with the best in Australia. Rice said last fall that she wanted to end her career at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but since she did not compete at the Aussie trials earlier this month, it appeared she was ready to make a retirement announcement, which she did via YouTube video.
Rice said she wants to “prove myself out of the water,” and we’re sure she’ll do that. All the best to you, Stephanie.
Next up is the number four headline of the week, and it’s the continued rise of Kosuke Hagino and his road toward likely becoming the next Michael Phelps. Last year he qualified for six individual events at the world championships, and he will have a similar program this summer at the Pan Pacific championships. He set some new lifetime bests in several events at the Japanese nationals last week, including an Asian record time of 1:55.74 in the 200 IM. That puts him a little bit closer to getting into the top 10 performances of all time, which is owned by Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Also impressive was a 3:43.90 in the 400 free on the same day as his 200 IM, and a 4:07.88 in the 400 IM. Hagino could walk away from the Pan Pacific championships in August with multiple gold medals, but it won’t be an easy feat, given the competition from the United States and Australia that he will likely face.
Moving on to number three on our countdown, and we’re still amazed at the near world record time of 2:19.61 in the 200 breast by Denmark’s Rikke Moller Pedersen at the Eindhoven Cup. Pedersen already owns the world record with a 2:19.11, and has now broken 2:20 a stunning three times. Remember when Rebecca Soni first did it in 2012 and we thought no one would come close to it for many years. Pedersen is out to prove us all wrong, and we could see her under the 2:19 barrier this summer at the European championships. Pedersen knows it will take everything she has to drop that world record, and to that end, she’s put up this photo showing her resolve to stay away from sweets in the next few months. If we see a 2:18 from Pedersen at Europeans, it might spark a wave of swimmers dumping candy and ice cream in order to be at their best. I would be surprised if it took Pedersen’s world record to make swimmers realize that the intake of sweets should be minimized, but better late than never.
Our number two headline of the week brings us grim news from Australia, where Ian Thorpe is recovering from an infection in his shoulder that is so severe he was in danger of losing the use of his left arm. Reports stated that Thorpe contracted a MRSA-like infection after surgery in Switzerland recently, and medicine to treat the pain and keep the area infection-free were proving useless. Thorpe’s publicist said the Thorpedo should be able to use his arm and get full use of it after he recovers, but did say the chances of Thorpe continuing with a comeback are very, very low. There’s been no update since Thorpe was admitted to the hospital last Tuesday, and we’re hoping for a speedy and full recovery.
So this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. The number one headline of the week, not surprisingly, is the announcement that Michael Phelps will race in the Arena Grand Prix in Mesa, Arizona, next week. The swimming community was not too shocked by USA Swimming’s announcement this morning, as the likelihood of Phelps racing this month was precluded by his entry into the drug testing pool last summer. Now that Phelps has ended his required blackout period from competition, the only question was what his first meet would be. Now that’s been answered, and so we must turn to “How fast will he be?” Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman told The Associated Press that Phelps will be swimming the 50 and 100 free as well as the 100 fly. The 100 free and 100 fly are typical events for Phelps. I don’t think we’ve ever seen him in the 50 free, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against established sprint freestylers such as Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin, among others. This will be an in-season competition for virtually all of the top swimmers in the meet, so we won’t be expecting world-class times. But I’m sure those in attendance will just be happy that the man dubbed the greatest of all time is back in the pool and racing against his old rivals again. Of course, with the meet just 30 minutes from the Swimming World headquarters, we will be on deck in Mesa from Phelps’ first splash to the last.