Phelps subjects himself to short test

Quick turns a challenge at meet in Indianapolis

Swimming

October 07, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - The local newspaper is asking its readers to call the paper if they spot Baltimore's Michael Phelps, "not when he's competing at Conseco Fieldhouse, [but] if you spot the tall Olympic medal winner" elsewhere - eating, shopping, dancing.

Phelps, who is here for the seventh FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships, didn't see the blurb, but he grinned broadly when asked about it.

"People are starting to recognize me," he said. "It's fun. They come up and say, `Are you Michael?' And I joke. I say, `Yes, I'm Michael, but what are you asking?' But here, the only place people are going to see me is walking to and from the arena. I'm here to concentrate on swimming."

In Indianapolis yesterday, people were asking whether Phelps will leave this event, in which more than 600 swimmers from about 100 countries have assembled, with a pile of gold. It is a question he answered when advancing on Athens and the Olympics, where he won eight medals, six of them gold.

But here, Phelps, who is recovering from a strained back muscle, is making no promises.

"Making turns on a short course isn't my forte," he said. "But I'm looking forward to getting into the water and racing. I'm looking forward to a meet like this in front of a home crowd on our own soil. I'm looking forward to stepping up and having fun. And I think we're going to swim fast."

Phelps will swim the 200-meter freestyle today, followed by the 400 individual medley, 200 IM, 100 IM and 200 butterfly over the next five days in the 25-meter, temporary pool - Olympic pools are 50 meters - erected for these championships.

Another Maryland Olympian, Katie Hoff, also will swim today in the 400 individual medley. It will be the first of three events for Hoff, who also will compete in the 100 IM and 200 IM.

"Katie's just looking to get some more international experience," said her coach, Paul Yetter. "She has never competed in a short-course meet, so we don't know what to expect."

Yetter said there is no pressure for Hoff, 15, of Abingdon. She is the U.S. Open record-holder in the 400 IM and finished seventh in the 200 IM at the Olympics.

"At her age, you know there is a lot more down the road for her," Yetter said. "We just want her to do the best she can every time out, whether it's in practice or at a meet - any meet. No matter where she is, it is simply a test against herself."

For Phelps, it also will be a test against himself, but on multiple levels. Can he overcome the lack of hard training and fatigue that resulted from participation in the Disney Swim With the Stars tour? Can he harness his long, lanky body and make it into a powerful short-course machine? And will his back hold up?

Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, said the muscle strain occurred during the tour, but Phelps has had therapy daily and the strain is no longer a worry, even though they waited until yesterday to affirm his schedule here.

"The turns are clearly an issue," Bowman said. "He has such a long body, it's hard for him to get into a tight ball quickly, and he doesn't rotate out of it quickly, which negates some of the advantage his body length gives him on a short course.

"But the positives are you can get by with less conditioning on a short course, and [once he makes his turn] his kicking off the wall is still strong."

The month-long Swim With the Stars tour, which visited 12 cities, which featured Phelps and his Olympic teammates Ian Crocker and Lenny Krayzelburg, sold out 12 of 16 shows, according to David Schwab, director of marketing for Octagon, which manages Phelps.

The biggest crowd, about 3,400, came out last week at the Mercury Hill Aquatics Club in San Jose, Calif.

"These guys [Phelps, Crocker and Krayzelburg] have done something most Olympians don't do - capitalize on their window of opportunity," said Schwab.

When asked about the tour here, Phelps indicated its primary purpose was to elevate swimming.

"We were traveling by tour bus and, at one stop there was a mob of about 100 kids screaming for us," Phelps said. "One of our guys said, `It's like we're the Aqua Beatles.' ... I've been on a mission to change the sport. The tour was part of that. I want to make it an every-day sport, not a once-every-four-years sport."

Sun staff writer Ed Waldman contributed to this article.

At a glance

What: World Short Course Swimming Championships

Who: Olympians Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff among competitors from 97 countries

When: Today through Monday

Where: Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

TV: ESPN2

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