Gary Hall Jr. voiced the mixed emotions American swimmers have about Michael Phelps.
"I'd love to see him on the 400 freestyle relay," Hall said. "That means he's going to have to race the 100 freestyle. For him to get a gold medal, he's going to have to beat me, and I'm not going down easily."
Actually, Phelps doesn't have to swim that sprint at the Olympic trials to be considered for the relay in Athens. Anyone on the U.S. squad going to Greece is relay eligible, but the most versatile swimmer ever can't overlook a chance to solidify his resume in the 100-meter freestyle, the reason it's on his program at the Santa Clara (Calif.) International.
With 85 days until the Aug. 14 start of Olympic swimming, here's the early line on Phelps' gold-medal chances, from the locks to the least likely:
Phelps lowered the world record four times in 42 days last summer, most recently to 1 minute, 55.94 seconds. No other man has ever gone under 1:58.
Tom Malchow, the only man to beat Phelps in the event since he set his first world record in March 2001, has never broken 1:55. Phelps' world record is 1:53.93.
At the 2003 world championships, Phelps lowered the world record to 4:09.09, just 1.70 seconds in front of Laszlo Cseh, a Hungarian who turned 18 last December. That was Phelps' 13th race in six days. The 400 IM is the first final in Athens.
Australia used the home-pool advantage to beat the United States in 2000. Russia ruled at last year's world championships, but that was without Phelps. Four active Americans have bettered his 100 freestyle best of 49.05, but Phelps has won the past two national titles.
400 medley relay
The United States owns swimming's grand finale. It will come a week after the 400 freestyle relay, which presumably will include a killer split from Phelps. If he can't beat out Ian Crocker for the butterfly leg, Phelps could still barge into this foursome on the basis of his freestyle.
Crocker is in the way, and getting sharper. Ukrainian Andriy Serdinov, Phelps and Crocker all lowered the world record in a 25-hour span last July.
Phelps is .15 of a second behind Aaron Peirsol's world record, but the larger obstacle is the schedule. On Aug. 19, the 200 backstroke final comes at 7:20 p.m., the 200 IM final at 7:54 and the semifinals of the 100 butterfly at 8:29 p.m.
Behind Ian Thorpe, Australia has been unbeatable, but its gap on the United States dwindled to 1.68 seconds at the 2003 worlds, where Phelps set an American record on the leadoff.
Thorpe is the greatest middle-distance swimmer ever, with a world record of 1:44.06. Only Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband has joined him under 1:45. Phelps' American record is 1:45.99, and he would be a larger threat if he weren't pulled in other directions.