In War of Words, Michael Phelps Has Opportunity to Respond

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Photo Courtesy: Peter Bick

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By David Rieder

Few athletes can channel motivation the way Michael Phelps can. Many have tried using trash talk to get into Phelps’ head over the years, most notably Milorad Cavic prior to going head-to-head with Phelps in the 100 fly at both the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Championships. Both times, Cavic’s words came back to bite him as each time Phelps responded to the wordy gauntlet with swift second-half splits and impressive touch-out victories.

Now, Phelps finds two familiar foes talking about him to the media after they occupied the first two spots in the 100 fly at the World Championships. Laszlo Cseh finished second in the 100 fly in 50.87 after earlier winning the 200 fly World title in 1:53.48. Cseh, who has stood on an international podium with Phelps nine different times but each time on a lower step, responded to Phelps’ world-leading 200 fly, a 1:52.94 from San Antonio on Friday night.

Phelps will have a look at Cseh’s quote before he swims in the 100 fly final tonight. But it’s the words of 100 fly World Champion Chad Le Clos that will really inspire the most-decorated Olympian of all time. Le Clos had already expressed his annoyance with Phelps calling out slow times recorded internationally in the fly events over the past few years, to which Phelps responded with his world-leading effort in the 200 fly on Friday. After Le Clos clocked 50.56 to win the 100 fly World crown, he airmailed a message express to San Antonio.

In fact, Phelps has not eclipsed that time by Le Clos since he set the world record in the event, a 49.83 from the tech-suit World Champs in 2009. Before this meet, no man had broken 51 seconds in the event since Phelps clocked 50.86 in the semi-finals at the Olympics (he would swim a bit slower to win the gold the next day).

Phelps swam the 100 fly in prelims before the World Champs final. He qualified second for this evening’s final with a time of 52.12, trailing just Jack Conger and his 51.97. After the race this morning, Phelps said, “I’ll know the final times,” indicating he would indeed check up on the results from the 100 fly final in Kazan. He surely did not expect that he would have such extensive bulletin board material to read before his swim.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter Bick

Phelps has responded with his best swims when he hears of his rivals talking trash. In the 100 fly in Rome in 2009, he answered Cavic with a 23.36 opening split, by far his fastest ever, and a world record time of 49.83, still his best time ever in the event by four tenths of a second. When the French 400 free relay team told the media they planned to win gold in the event at the 2008 Olympics, Phelps responded with a 100 free American record on the lead-off split as the U.S. went on to shock France with Jason Lezak’s legendary anchor split.

What should we expect from Phelps tonight? He showed with his 200 fly that he is indeed in physical shape, probably better shape than he has been since winning eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008. Going into the meet, Phelps probably had hoped to swim under 51 seconds, but now, he will not be fully satisfied unless he beats Le Clos’ time from Kazan and sends a new message for Le Clos to wake up to early Sunday morning.

Quick Hits

*Emily Seebohm completed the backstroke sweep at the World Championships when she upset Missy Franklin and Katinka Hosszu to win the 200 back world title. Franklin led Seebohm by 1.31 seconds with just 50 meters to go, but Seebohm unleashed a monster last lap. Her 31.14 split destroyed Franklin’s 32.98 as Seebohm added her second individual World title to her collection after winning her first in the 100 back on Tuesday.

Most notable about that performance is Seebohm’s lack of experience in the 200 back. A mainstay on the international scene in the 100 for eight years − she had won one Olympic and two World medals prior to winning the title in Kazan − she had never qualified to represent Australia at either meet in the 200 back. And now, a swimmer who began 2015 with a best time of 2:07.61 has dropped all the way to 2:05.81 to pick up her second individual World title.

*Singapore won its first medal of the World Championships when Joseph Schooling grabbed the bronze in 50.96. For Schooling, that’s his first major international medal, and it gives him a leg up in a seemingly insignificant competition: his relationship with Texas teammate Jack Conger. After Conger finished second in the 200 fly on Friday, he admitted that he was glad to beat out the 1:56.11 that Schooling swam in the event in Kazan; Conger clocked 1:54.58 to finish second to Phelps.

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Photo Courtesy: Aringo

“It feels good having my name on that wall and not his,” said Conger, in reference to Texas’ school record board.” We’re always gonna mess with each other about that, and it’ll go back and forth I’m sure all the time.” Now, though, Conger will have to unleash a big swim tonight to post the number one Longhorn time for the 100 fly this year, but based on his 200 fly performance, Conger should be able to drop a big chunk from his prelims time of 51.97.

*The biggest statement swim of the morning prelims at U.S. Nationals came in the men’s 50 free. 18 year old Caeleb Dressel led the way through prelims with a 21.85, knocking a half second off his entry time of 22.35. Dressel should have some tough competition in the final in the form of Josh Schneider and Cullen Jones, but the soon-to-be sophomore at Florida has been a hot name in the 50 free since winning the NCAA title in March as just a freshman.

That time by Dressel moves him into sixth in the world rankings, and his time ranks second among Americans this year behind the new American record of 21.37 that Nathan Adrian swam on Friday in Kazan. 21.8 most likely will not qualify for the American Olympic team next summer, but with the amount he has already dropped, don’t be surprised if he continues to make inroads, perhaps even as soon as in this evening’s final.

*Yes, obviously I am going to talk about Katie Ledecky. Her performance in the 800 free final in Kazan wrapped up her Golden Sweep of the 200, 400, 800, and 1500 free races that had never before been achieved (and Ledecky added a title from the 800 free relay to boot). But it was the amount by which she shattered her own year-old world record that caused a pool deck full of swimmers halfway around the world in San Antonio to merely sigh in awe.

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Photo Courtesy: R-Sport / MIA Rossiya Segodnya

Entering the race with a best time and world record of 8:11.00, Ledecky quickly swam ahead of her own world record pace and took a dominating lead in the race. But after averaging 30.7s on her last several 50s, Ledecky was well on pace to cracking the 8:10-barrier for the first time ever. But with 6150 meters of racing on the week already complete and just 50 to go, Ledecky decided to leave nothing in the tank. She came home in a blistering 28.41 and touched the wall with a final time of 8:07.39 − a fitting end to one of the most spectacular individual performances ever at a World Championships.

18 comments

  1. avatar
    commonwombat

    David, Seebohm has always swam the 200 domestically but her path to international selection in this event was blocked for 5-6 years by two regular international finalists/2.06-2.07 performers in Hocking & Nay.

    Nay’s withdrawal due to injury in 2014 opened the 200 door to her and she represented at both CG & Pan Pacs collecting silver at both.

    Kazan, however, has been her first “Major” at which she’s swam the 200. Looking to next year, Hocking MAY be back but the most likely domestic competition is likely to be Wilson who mucked up the 200 final at AUS Trials.

    • avatar
      David Rieder

      Exactly, commonwombat. Very impressive breakthrough in the 200. Wonder what’s up with Hocking. She’s here at Nationals, and she did not swim well yesterday in the 100 (no advance). Will look into it. Or if you know why she’s struggling, please let me know!

  2. avatar
    NP

    They never learn. First it was Thorpe’s coach, then Thorpe himself. Then Cavic. Now Lazlo and Le Clos? I used to like Cseh, but now I just don’t know. Not that I think Phelps is invincible, but to talk smack about any other athlete is just in poor taste. Besides, this word warfare never works on Phelps anyway. He’s “a motivation machine”. We’ll see what he does tonight…

    • avatar
      AvantSwim

      You must have access to an another interview with Cseh. The one I heard, quoted above, acknowledges the strength of Phelps’ time, as well as the fact that he is World Champion. How is this “smack”? He was responding, in his non-native tongue, to the question asked of him.

      • avatar
        NP

        I take your point. I did not think about English not being his native tongue. I did not listen to the original interview. Perhaps I was taking the quote out of context, but it seems a tad insensitive to me. But taking into consideration your comment I retract what I said about Cseh. However, Le Clos’s English is perfect, and I can see no context (except one in which Phelps said something rude to him) where this might be acceptable. Thank you for your comment.

  3. avatar
    NBAC Enthusiast

    Let’s go Phelps! I’ve got my money on a 50.2 or lower! Bring it on home!

    While I’m here I’d like to congratulate the other North Baltimore athletes at Nationals! Great job!

    • avatar
      NP

      I tend to agree with your guess. Let us hope you are right. I think most of us would like to see Phelps succeed. Especially in light of the poor sportsmanship Cseh’s and Le Clos’s comments display.

      • avatar
        NP

        Looks like Phelps is back on TOP!

      • avatar
        NBAC Enthusiast

        But only a 50.4 🙁 Great swim though!

  4. avatar
    translated..

    these are swimmers. Lighten up Francis….. Lazlo can’t be happy about being a world champion? He’s always been pretty much the best sportsman out there. What did he say that was controversial? Way to stir the Sh*t Zacardi. Go have some borscht and take a nap. LeClos, however, will probably stir the soup until they meet.

  5. avatar
    David Rieder

    To pretty much everyone: these tweets are simply direct quotes from the Eurosport broadcast. Nick listened and transcribed. No stirring up of anything intended. Good points about Cseh talking in his non-native tongue, but if you’ve listened to his English this week on Jeff’s interviews, you can tell he’s pretty comfortable with it. As for Le Clos, he’s really stirring. Which surprises me. Especially this one, from latest Zaccardi post: “Look, I don’t want to say it’s easy to swim by yourself [against lesser competition at the U.S. Championships than at Worlds], but it’s a lot harder when you know Chad le Clos is coming back at you the last 50 meters. That’s what he’s got to think about really.”

    Trying to get inside Phelps’ head. This is the same guy who ALWAYS posts faster times at international meets than the preceding trials. Seems odd.

    • avatar
      Dunc1952

      2nd 100 — Phelps :59.54
      LeClos :59.55

    • avatar
      Dunc1952

      Le Clos was :30.20 on the third 50, 6th fastest in his heat. He slowed (rested?, in relative terms) to be able to push the last 50. Not exactly a champion’s mentality (unless, like in the Games) he gets back and puts his hands on the wall first.

  6. Pat Henahan

    Awwwwwww Yeah! Get em Phelps