Aquatic Centre has Athens look

Phelps won't have to go far from hotel for competition

Swimming

July 06, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

LONG BEACH, Calif. - This venue could spoil Michael Phelps.

At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, athletes will maneuver from their village to competition sites in shuttle buses. Depending upon the time of day, it's feared that a one-way trip could take as much as a half hour from village to pool. With Phelps figuring to be the busiest swimmer in Greece, finding him a more convenient place to nap in between the morning and evening sessions has been explored.

The U.S. Olympic trials, conversely, provide maybe the most convenient logistics the 19-year-old from Rodgers Forge has ever enjoyed. He could pass nearly two weeks without getting in a motorized vehicle, as his hotel is maybe a 400-yard walk to the Charter All Digital Aquatic Centre.

When Phelps stopped here for a promotional appearance last December, on his way home from competing in Australia, he chalked one of his world record times on a convention center parking lot. If that message hadn't worn away, it would be obscured by a temporary facility that offers some marvelous vistas.

The 650,000-gallon main pool, and the 750,000-gallon warm-up pool - its larger capacity comes from three 25-meter lanes requested by sprint coaches - were shipped from Italy and arrived in April. Construction began on May 4.

After a FINA water polo tournament later this month, the pools will be disassembled and shipped for use elsewhere, the competition pool to another California town, and the warm-up pool to Berkeley Heights, N.J.

The competition pool is surrounded by 10,000 seats, and spectators in Row 36, 73 feet above ground, might be distracted by views of the Queen Mary, Long Beach Harbor and the Pacific on the horizon.

Wanting to simulate the Athens environment, USA Swimming officials chose Long Beach's open-air proposal over bids from the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis, which had been host to the last five U.S. trials, and the San Antonio Alamodome.

The original plan in Athens was for a canopy to cover the Olympic pool, but for the sides to be open to the elements. When that design feature was scrapped by omnipresent construction delays, USA Swimming's decision to compete alfresco looked even better.

The U.S. trials have been held outside before, and twice before in Long Beach, in 1968 and 1976.

The eight-day meet begins tomorrow, and the North Baltimore Aquatic Club is looking for a sweep in the first event, the 400-meter individual medley.

While Phelps is a commanding favorite in the men's race - he's rested and ready to lower the world record that has been his since August 2002 - 15-year-old Katie Hoff is the second seed in the women's race.

Phelps at trials

Michael Phelps entered six events at the U.S. Olympic swim trials. His daily schedule follows:

Tomorrow-Morning: 400 IM preliminaries. Evening: 400 IM final.

Thursday-Morning: 200 freestyle preliminaries. Evening: 200 freestyle semifinals.

Friday-Morning: 200 butterfly preliminaries. Evening: 200 freestyle final; 200 butterfly semifinals.

Saturday-Evening: 200 butterfly final.

Sunday-Morning: 200 backstroke preliminaries; 200 IM preliminaries. Evening: 200 backstroke semifinals; 200 IM semifinals.

Monday-Morning: 100 butterfly preliminaries. Evening: 200 backstroke final; 200 IM final; 100 butterfly semifinal.

Next Tuesday-Evening: 100 butterfly final.

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