Phelps has options for Olympic program

Towson swimmer can use U.S. trials as test ground



March 14, 2004|By Paul McMullen and Candus Thomson | Paul McMullen and Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

It's a strong possibility that the Olympic program for Michael Phelps will differ from the one he tackles at the U.S. trials.

Aside from the construction quagmire facing Athens, the biggest guessing game regarding the 2004 Olympics centers on the 18-year-old from Rodgers Forge. Phelps is favored to win three individual events at the Olympics, and he would be a factor in three others. Not even the most versatile swimmer in history would tackle six individual events at the Olympics, but Phelps could do just that at the U.S. trials.

Phelps will earn a $1 million bonus from Speedo if he can match the seven gold medals won by Mark Spitz at the 1972 Olympics. Spitz won three of his golds in relays. Phelps needs to make a big haul there, too, but because relays aren't part of the trials, which otherwise adhere to the Olympic schedule, his experiments can continue right up until July 14.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of editing errors, an article in Sunday's Sports section about swimmer Michael Phelps contained incorrect references to world-record times. Phelps is 0.12 of a second off the world record in the 100-meter butterfly, and 0.15 of a second off the world record in the 200 backstroke.

That's the night the U.S. trials, in Long Beach, Calif., conclude an eight-day run. USA Swimming will request that the top two finishers declare their Olympic intentions 24 hours after an event has been completed, but the national governing body is prepared to give Phelps additional time in that decision-making process.

Phelps is the world champion, world record-holder and prohibitive Olympic favorite in the 200-meter butterfly, 200 individual medley and 400 IM. He is only 0.012 of a second off American Ian Crocker's world record in the 100 butterfly, another event presumably on his Olympic dance card.

After that, speculation about his program gets dicier.

Phelps could be idle on day two of the U.S. trials, unless he enters the 200 freestyle. The American record-holder, Phelps was only .85 second slower than Ian Thorpe last year, and that dwindling gap had as much as anything to do with the Australian calling off his venture into the 200 IM, which is part of Phelps' domain.

On paper, Phelps would be a more serious challenger in the 200 backstroke. Last month, he came within 0.015 of a second of American Aaron Peirsol's 2-year-old world record, but the addition of that event would create a logjam. That's Day 6 of the trials. And then there's the Olympics, which has a night session in which the last three men's events are the final of the 200 backstroke, the final of the 200 IM and the semifinals of the 100 butterfly.

Phelps could compete in all six individual events at the trials, check his progress against that of Thorpe, Peirsol and perhaps even Crocker, then decide what to include in his Olympic program. Keep an event, and Phelps could send someone into early retirement. Discard one, and he could make a career highlight for a third-place finisher who gets to move up.

Six events at the trials would mean 17 races over seven days for Phelps. He handled 13 in six at last July's world championships, and he might have made the difference in a 14th, the 400 freestyle relay. Without Phelps, the reigning national champ in the 100 freestyle, the U.S. lost to Russia by .74 of a second.

Anyone on the U.S. roster can be chosen for Olympic relay duty, so Phelps does not have to swim the 100 and 200 freestyles at the trials to be considered for the 400 and 800 freestyle relays.

Next up for Phelps and other Olympic hopefuls from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club is the Maryland championships, March 18-21, at the U.S. Naval Academy's Lejeune Hall.

Revived Hall of Fame

After a 14-year lull, U.S. Olympic organizers are reviving the Hall of Fame, which has 151 members, including 68 athletes from individual sports, five teams and 11 others known as "special contributors."

A 10-person nominating committee developed this year's list of 19 individual athletes, six teams and five paralympians.

The list includes track and field stars Evelyn Ashford and Joan Benoit, swimmers Matt Biondi and Janet Evans, boxer Oscar de la Hoya, gymnast Shannon Miller, figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi and speed skaters Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen.

One team will be selected from a list that includes the 1992 men's basketball "Dream Team" and the gold medal 1998 women's ice hockey team. Fans can log onto to vote. The deadline is April 14.

The induction ceremony will be in Chicago on July 1 at the Cadillac Palace Theater.

Games at a glance

When: Aug. 13-29

Where: Athens, Greece

Sports: 28

Countries: 201

Athletes: 10,500

Events: 296


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Flame lit: March 25

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