By John Lohn
CRANBURY, New Jersey, September 5. ANYONE yearning for some big-time competition? After a hot summer of action, the lull we are now experiencing is somewhat difficult to accept. Then again, the college season is creeping closer and the World Championships in Melbourne will be upon us in seven months. In the meantime, here are some random musings.
**At the 2000 Olympic Trials, Paul McMullen, a veteran writer at the The Baltimore Sun, chronicled the rise of a teenager into an Olympian. McMullen worked feverishly inside the Indiana University Natatorium to shed the brightest light on the achievements of Michael Phelps, then a 15-year-old who earned a berth to the Sydney Olympics in the 200-meter butterfly.
Now, six years and many meets later, McMullen’s book on Phelps, Amazing Pace, has been released. Simply put, McMullen’s work is sensational. As Phelps stormed toward an eight-medal performance at the Athens Olympics, no individual had a better feel for the workings of the Phelps circle than McMullen.
During Phelps’ run to Athens, McMullen was present at each of the competitions in which the phenom competed and provided a detailed breakdown of Phelps’ rapid development. But, McMullen also went a step further, analyzing Phelps’ meaning to the sport, the physiology that led to his success and the relationship he holds with his coach, Bob Bowman.
What McMullen produced was a splendid work, a well-rounded book that takes the reader beyond the pool deck.
**If there was any doubt as to how Grant Hackett would respond to the shoulder surgery he underwent earlier this year, the questions were answered last week at the Australian Short Course Championships. There, the distance ace registered victories in the 200, 400 and 1500 freestyles with his triumph in the metric mile arriving in a spectacular time of 14:19.47.
While the Australian women are stacked with talent, Hackett is exactly what the Aussie men need. With the male contingent from Down Under relatively weak and Ian Thorpe’s status uncertain, Hackett can carry the torch for the Australian men while they try to regain the form they knew at the Sydney Olympics. Look for Hackett to drop the hammer at the Aussie World Champs Trials in December.
**En route to victory in the 200 individual medley at the Pan Pacific Championships, Whitney Myers made a strong case for the breakout performance of the summer. Clocking a time of 2:10.11, Myers became the third-fastest performer in the history of the event and edged American-record holder Katie Hoff for the gold medal. The swim instantly made Myers a major contender for a world title in the discipline.
**Away from the international scene for two years, Amanda Beard is scheduled to begin training this week with Trojan Swim Club. The return of the seven-time Olympic medalist arrives at a good time for United States swimming, as it is in need of a boost in the 200 breaststroke. And, if there is anyone who can provide a spark, Beard certainly qualifies.
**When Erik Vendt returned to training in the spring, thus turning his back on retirement, few doubted the two-time Olympian’s chances at returning to international stardom. But, Vendt deserves some serious kudos for the swiftness with which he returned to global renown. After just a few months with the boys at Club Wolverine, Vendt won the 1500 free at Nationals and made a stellar showing in the 400 individual medley, an event in which he’s a two-time Olympic silver medalist. With more time in the water, look for Vendt to make this comeback story even more enthralling.
**Speaking of comebacks, it’s hard to believe any athlete could compete in five Olympic Games. But, that’s exactly what Dara Torres is trying to accomplish. Having given birth to her first baby, Torres is back in the water and training for the 2008 Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb. Torres’ best chance at making the U.S. Team is likely as a relay member in the 400 free relay. Yet, even if Torres does not make the team, the fact that she’s giving it a shot speaks volumes for her competitiveness and drive.