When the Mustache Changed Everything

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Column by Nathan Jendrick

OMAHA, Nebraska, June 25. ONE of the more endearing aspects of swimming as a whole is that we never seem to take ourselves too seriously; this fact never more apparent than the back-and-forth between Michael Phelps and the media when it came to whether or not he would contest the 400 IM, an event he previously swore to be done with in 2008. It was only when the mustache came off, and the picture fed to Twitter, that the world at large knew Phelps would be on the blocks Monday morning.

So what? Phelps is swimming an event he's the best at. What's the big deal? A few things make this enticing.

First, this dramatically changes the landscape of not just the 400 IM, but perhaps his entire Olympic program. Without the IM, there was little speculation that Phelps might go for another eight gold. He has seemed passive about it, as if another record haul of gold medals didn't seem interesting. He has said he has his goals, whatever they may be, and no one can argue with that. But now it seems his goals may again be lofty which, without question, means big things for swimming at the Olympics in just a few weeks as it would certainly increase the attention already being given to Phelps, Lochte and Co.

Second, it shows that Phelps is scared of nothing. For some reason, the feedback I received in the weeks leading into Trials was that people believed Phelps wouldn't race the 400 IM (or the 200 back, for that matter) because he didn't want to lose to Ryan Lochte. While these people surely seemed to forget the effort Phelps put forward in the 200 freestyle in Athens, they now have nothing left but a proverbial foot in their collective mouth. Phelps is the champion of the IM, has made the event his, and he has decided to defend his crown. That should be applauded.

Third, and perhaps most important, it shows Phelps can change his mind over a four-year period. It shows that Michael may decide he isn't done with this sport after all come, say, 2016 and the Rio Olympic Games, and by then he may have more goals he wants to accomplish. This would surely be a boost to any American Olympic squad and a welcome change of mind from history's greatest Olympian. And, in my opinion, I think this is becoming increasingly likely.

The final count for these Olympic Trials are 1,831 registered athletes. All at this moment, before the first start of these Trials, can relate to the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. line, “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.” In just over a week's time, around 50 will still agree.

Let our games begin.

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