For Phelps, no need of smoke or mirrors

Workout best answer to a coach's question



August 08, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

MALLORCA, Spain - What is his cigarette?

That's what the Spanish coach wanted to know at 7:50 a.m. yesterday when a few hundred fans and members of the European media attended a training session of the American swim team.

Upon further review, it was ascertained that the coach wasn't asking what brand Michael Phelps smokes, but his secret.

To discover that, she would have had to return to the closed-door session that was held in the afternoon, when the American coaching staff outnumbered its only two swimmers who did doubles yesterday, Phelps and Katie Hoff.

The Athens Olympics begin in five days, and swimming commences Saturday when Phelps and his North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammate seek a sweep of the 400-meter individual medley.

In his taper - the gradual lessening of training designed to lead to enhanced performance - Phelps has averaged better than 30 miles, more than some do during their peak workload.

"I don't see how his preparation could be going any better," said Bob Bowman, Phelps' personal coach. "I know he's better now than he was before the [U.S. team] trials. Maybe a lot better, but once all the hoopla starts ... "

Yesterday's included this question: Will Phelps vote for President Bush or John F. Kerry in November?

"The objective at hand is swimming," said Phelps, ducking and running with a smile. "That's what I'm worried about right now."

Choices, choices

Eddie Reese, head coach of the U.S. men's team, has had to take time to reiterate the process he'll follow as he selects relay lineups that will impact Phelps' medal count.

Nothing has changed since July 12, when Reese said at the U.S. trials that the third through sixth finishers in the 100 freestyle will swim the preliminaries of the 400 relay in Athens. If several deliver breakthrough performances, then Phelps, who didn't swim the 100 free at the U.S. trials, won't get on the relay at night, a calculated risk he and Bowman have known of since last year.

It would be foolish for Reese to guarantee Phelps a berth and alienate other swimmers he is relying upon, a scenario several Web sites erroneously reported last week.

"We talk about relays at every team meeting, so they know where I stand," Reese said yesterday. "Normally, you [a coach] could get away with a lot of stuff, but this is all out in the light, because of the publicity Michael has received."

Reese isn't ready to define a slot for Phelps on the 800 relay team. In the 400 medley relay, he has a green light to take the butterfly leg in the preliminaries after finishing second to Ian Crocker at the U.S. trials.

"If it interferes with one of Michael's events, or he's tired, we'll put someone else in," Reese said. "That will be Bob's call."

Bowman, one of Reese's three assistants, will be his roommate in Athens. Lenny Krayzelburg, the most decorated American swimmer in Sydney, is rooming with Phelps this time around.

It's not bad

The American swim team spent only two nights in Athens after processing before coming here to train for a week. After hearing several years' worth of anxiety over poor planning, Bowman likes what he has seen of Greece.

"Everything is going to be better than expected," Bowman said. "During the morning swim sessions, the athletes' seating section is in the shade. At night, the weather wasn't unlike at the trials; you might need a jacket. We've been so negative, but people are going to be surprised."

Games at a glance

When: Friday - Aug. 29

Where: Athens, Greece

Sports: 28

Countries: 202

Athletes: 10,500

Events: 296

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