Phelps feeling more like his old self as he bids for berth on world team

Training, competition easing him past strains of life after '04 Games


April 01, 2005|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's Michael Phelps is very happy to be in Indianapolis, concentrating on swimming and getting back into the life he knows.

"I've had ups and downs since the Olympics," said Phelps, who suffered a stress fracture in his back last October and then made headlines in November when he was arrested in Salisbury on suspicion of driving while impaired.

"I've gotten back in the groove now, back in training. It's hard to be back in school after being out for two years, but it's good not to have as much free time."

After going through a few rough weeks in getting acclimated to his new surroundings at the University of Michigan, where he is a student and volunteer assistant coach with the Wolverines swim team, as well as in training for the 2008 Olympics, Phelps is demonstrating he is as competitive as ever.

His back, by his estimation, still isn't 100 percent, but three weeks ago at the U.S. Short-Course Championships in Austin, Texas, he still blitzed the competition. Phelps shattered the U.S. 200-yard freestyle record that had stood for nearly two decades and won the 100 freestyle and the 200 and 400 individual medleys.

Now he is headlining the 2005 World Championship Trials that begin today at the Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis, where 600 swimmers have assembled, including 33 from the 2004 Olympic team.

The event, which is spread across six days, will determine the U.S. national teams that will compete in the world championships, July 17-31 in Montreal, and the World University Games, Aug. 11-21 in Izmir, Turkey.

A maximum of 26 men and 26 women will be selected for the world championships team and another 26 of each will be selected for the World University Games. Swimmers cannot be members of both teams.

Phelps, the winner of six Olympic gold medals, would be swimming on his third world championships team.

He has pre-registered for seven individual events, including, for him, two new ones, the 100- and 400-meter freestyles.

Phelps will face strong opposition. In the field will be world-record holders Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen and Ian Crocker. Also competing will be Olympic double medalist Ryan Lochte, who has entered nine events and is scheduled to compete against Phelps in six of them.

But during Monday's conference call, Phelps said he is not certain how many of those seven events he will actually swim in.

"We're not 100 percent sure," he said, referring to himself and longtime coach Bob Bowman. "I don't know what kind of shape I'm in. My back isn't 100 percent yet - but close. We're hoping to get over that and get this meet under our belt."

Among the top women's swimmers competing this week will be world championships veterans Amanda Beard, Natalie Coughlin and Kaitlin Sandeno.

Sandeno, who won three Olympic medals and followed that with four gold medals in the Short Course World Championships last fall, has also pre-registered for seven events and is being called "the Female Phelps."

"It's a huge compliment, but I've been doing that, swimming in a lot of events, all the time," she said. "When I was 10 or 12 and swimming for my club team, I always had a lot of events. I do what works for me.

"This will be an interesting meet," she said. "A lot of our U.S. swimmers have retired, and it's like a new generation is coming. I'm excited to be up in the mix again."

Phelps said he is not nervous about getting back into competition, despite being unsure about how his back will react.

"It's more excitement," he said. "I'm excited to be back in the water again. It's amazing to train with two NCAA champions [at Michigan] as we help each other go to the next level."

Though he is still training under Bowman - now the Michigan coach - Phelps said the experience has changed. Bowman, according to Phelps, seems less intense, and workouts include more smiles and laughter than when the two were at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.

Phelps also said he is enjoying having other top swimmers to train with.

"Now, every day, someone brings their A game," he said. "It's definitely exciting, being in a program where we're all together and racing."

But Phelps is not totally inundated by swimming. When this event ends, he'll head back to Baltimore, where he will speak out against drinking and driving at several schools as part of the community service work required by the court after he pleaded guilty in December to driving while impaired.

And, on April 11, he'll be a judge for the Miss USA Pageant at the Hippodrome Theatre.

"It's definitely exciting," he said of being a judge. "Friends are calling, saying they'll fly in if I can get them tickets. I don't know what I can say that's appropriate for the newspaper - but it'll be fun, that's about all I can say."

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