By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun
11:00 PM EDT, July 2, 2012
Omaha, Neb. — Michael Phelps' eight gold medals in eight tries in the 2008 Beijing Olympics might never be duplicated.
On Monday, someone who could have been able to do it — Phelps himself — announced that he wouldn't even try.
On track after his performance in the U.S. swimming trials to enter the same eight events in this summer's Games, Phelps said he would drop one to conserve energy for the others, including the always crowd-pleasing relays.
"I think it's just smarter. ... It's going to give me the best opportunity to swim well," Phelps told The Baltimore Sun. "There's no need to do it again. The possibility of adding three relays, it ends up being a lot. This isn't another Beijing, this is London."
In a sense, it's a concession being to four years older, as well as what coach Bob Bowman said is Phelps' "lesser preparation" this year compared with 2008. But it perhaps also reflects a desire to protect one of the greatest Olympic legacies ever, one that is wrapped up in an exceedingly high gold standard, and one that he himself set.
"After we saw here what he did, which was quite good," Bowman said of Phelps' trials performance, "we realized that the level he did here will not be acceptable to win gold medals in London in most of the events."
Of course, Phelps at his current level is still better than anyone else, at least anyone who competed in the swimming trials. Now 27, Phelps said he felt less than "peppy" at the trials, yet he managed to sweep the table nonetheless: After arriving from six weeks of altitude training in Colorado, he won four events and came in second in a fifth, the 400-meter individual medley, still good enough to earn an Olympic berth in it.
Add to that the three relays he will enter, and Phelps was on track to duplicate his Beijing program. Until, that is, Bowman announced Monday morning that Phelps would drop the 200 freestyle from his lineup.
The way the schedule of events stack up in London, Phelps would swim the preliminaries and finals of the ever-grueling 400 IM on the first day, with the the 200 free, the 1,600 relay and the 200 butterfly, perhaps Phelps' most iconic event, all rolling out over the second and third days.
"Being able to take those three 200s out," Phelps said of the preliminary, semifinal and final races, "it's going to give me a little more energy for the other events and an extra day to recover from the 400 IM. And the 200 fly obviously is something that's important to me, and that's the next day as well."
And that's only the first three days, with five more days of swimming to follow.
Bowman said the U.S. team heads to London knowing that it will face tough competition, especially in the relays with countries such as Australia and France sending fast slates to London.
"It's going to take everything we've got to be competitive in the relays, especially the 4x100 relay," Bowman said. "We're just trying to ensure that he'll be there for the relays."
Gregg Troy, coach of the men's Olympic team, said dropping the 200 free would make Phelps "a lot fresher guy as we go through the rest of the meet."
Troy, who also coaches Phelps' rival Ryan Lochte, called the Baltimore swimmer's program "really tough," particularly at his age.
"He's a little bit older,"Troy said, "and those older guys don't recover quite as quickly."
Bowman said taking the 200 free out of the mix lightens the pressure, however unreasonable, on Phelps.
Bowman's announcement on Twitter that Phelps would unload a race set off a flurry both on the social media site and at CenturyLink Center, where the swimming trials ended Monday night.
Ricky Berens, who came in third to Phelps and Lochte in the 200 free, found out he moved up from runner-up status to competitor on Twitter. Shortly after Bowman tweeted the news, Berens retweeted: "WAIT WHAT!!!! RT @coach_bowman: @MichaelPhelps will be removing the individual 200 freestyle from his Olympic program."
Bowman and Phelps had long maintained that he likely would enter six or seven events in London. But Bowman said Sunday night that when Phelps started doing well in 400 IM races that he entered this year for training purposes, the prospect of competing in it in London was on the table. But something had to give, and Bowman said he and Phelps decided late Sunday night it would be the 200 free.
Perhaps presaging the decision he and Phelps made before they turned in for the night on Sunday, Bowman said the number of events was not as important as how well they would be swum.
"He could become the most decorated Olympian of all time," Bowman said of Phelps, who needs three medals to surpass the 18 won by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina. "He could be the first male swimmer to win gold in the sane event in three consecutive Olympics."
While the relay teams will not be set until London, Phelps is expected to swim in the 400 and 800 freestyle relays and the 400 medley relay in addition to his individual events: the 100 and 200 flies and the 200 and 400 IMs.
Lochte qualified for the two IMs, the 200 backstroke and the 800 free relay, and is being considered for the 400 free relay as well.
On Monday, Phelps seemed at peace with his program, saying it was "plenty big." And, he added, he found himself with a fuller plate almost inadvertently when he agreed to add the 400 IM, the race he swore he'd never swim again after Beijing.
"I ended up not putting everything together and seeing how many events it really was. And it was eight, and I have done that once before," he said. "I don't need to go out there and try to destroy myself again. That was painful."
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