Phelps' coach to take over Michigan men's team

NBAC's Bowman will lead star through Olympics


April 02, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - Michael Phelps stopped at Conseco Fieldhouse yesterday to promote the world short-course swimming championships.

By the time he returns for that meet in October, Phelps could be making his home in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Bob Bowman, who helped make Phelps the most versatile swimmer in the history of the sport and the favorite to be the most decorated athlete at the 2004 Olympics, was officially named University of Michigan men's team head coach yesterday.

Bowman will remain with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and coach Phelps through the Olympics, then take over the Wolverines men in the fall. A professional since 2001, Phelps couldn't represent Michigan, but he and Bowman don't sound as if they are prepared to break up their remarkable relationship.

Phelps, 18, graduated from Towson High last June. Training and promotional demands led Phelps to delay his entrance into Loyola College, where he had planned to take a light course load this year. Bowman's hiring opens the door for Phelps to instead attend Michigan and train there.

"I'm open to anything that he thinks will help him," Bowman said.

"That's possible," Phelps said. "We have some decisions to make. Right now, my head is on Athens."

That moptop was covered by a Michigan ballcap four years ago in Australia, when Phelps made his historic Olympic debut at 15, America's youngest male Olympian in 68 years.

Phelps lives in a Rodgers Forge townhouse with his mother, Debbie, who raves about Bowman almost as much as she does her son.

"They're a team," Debbie Phelps said. "We've always collaborated on every decision. Who knows where he'll be in October?"

Bowman interviewed for the Michigan position March 22. He accepted the job late last week, when he, Phelps and five other NBAC veteran swimmers were at a training getaway in the Bahamas.

"You can talk to him about anything and everything. He's sort of like a big brother," said Phelps, who has little contact with his father. "I wouldn't be where I am without Bob."

Phelps may feel nostalgic at the Counsilman Classic, a Grand Prix meet that runs today through Sunday at the IU Natatorium. It's where he qualified for the 2000 Olympics and lowered his world record in the 400 individual medley at the Duel in the Pool last April 6, on Bowman's 38th birthday.

Phelps will swim the 200 freestyle and 400 IM today, the 200 butterfly and 200 breaststroke tomorrow, and the 200 backstroke and 100 freestyle on Sunday. He said there is no chance he will swim the 400 freestyle in the Olympics, a possibility that was raised when Ian Thorpe false-started his way out of a gold medal defense of that event at the Australian trials.

Bowman came to the NBAC a decade ago, after spending the previous nine years bouncing from seven jobs in five states. USA Swimming's Coach of the Year in 2001 and 2003 had turned down lucrative offers from other prestigious clubs. He inherits a strong program at Michigan, where John Urbanchek recently retired after a career that produced two individual gold medalists in 2000 alone.

"This is the most difficult decision I've ever made," said Bowman, who figures to be named to the U.S. Olympic coaching staff. "I'm happy to be going to the University of Michigan, but my heart will always be with the NBAC."

Bowman's stock rose along with that of Phelps, whose unprecedented display at the 2003 world championships ramped up his quest to match the record seven gold medals won by Mark Spitz in 1972. That led to meetings like yesterday's, when Indiana Pacers executive Larry Bird presented Phelps with a No. 7 jersey.

"That's Jermaine O'Neal's number," Bird said, "but we know what it stands for."

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