By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun
4:53 PM EDT, June 19, 2012
Previewing what he might swim in his final Olympics in London, Michael Phelps has entered seven races in next week's qualifying trials — including the exciting but exhausting 400-meter individual medley.
The question of how the Baltimore swimmer would cap off his already golden Olympic career this summer has been the subject of much speculation. His entry list for the swimming trials, which begin in Omaha, Neb., on Monday, at least partially answers that:
The 200- and 400-meter individual medleys, the 100- and 200-meter butterflys, the 100- and 200-meter freestyles and the 200-meter backstroke.
Phelps has kept his game plan for London secret, even as reporters and fans have tried to guess how he would try to top his previous Games — the record-breaking eight gold medals he won in Beijing in 2008, the six gold and two bronze from Athens in 2004.
And, in fact, the parlor game will continue. Phelps and other swimmers often keep their options open by signing up for more races than they ultimately end up competing in. His primary American rival, Ryan Lochte, for example, has entered 11 races in Omaha, and no one expects him to swim that often over the course of the eight-day event.
The two could swim six times against each other at the trials, but only if each went through with races that are not part of his regular portfolio, such as the 200-back for Phelps and the 200-fly for Lochte. The more likely matchups would come in freestyle and individual medley races.
The biggest will-he, won't-he question for Phelps heading into London remains the 400 IM. He has repeatedly broken his own world record in the race, considered his sport's most challenging, and just as repeatedly has vowed never to swim it again.
But pressure to swim one last 400 IM has come from all corners: His coach, Bob Bowman, loves it for its rigor. His mother Debbie says it's her favorite race to watch him in. And, his main American rival, Ryan Lochte swims it, and has beaten him in the past — always a motivating factor for Phelps.
And then there's the sheer spectacle of it: The 400 IM is the first swimming event of the Olympics, and the qualifying trials in Omaha for that matter, and the prospect of a Phelps-Lochte smackdown getting the Games off to a rousing start surely has NBC officials salivating over a ratings bonanza.
Phelps has resisted the race in the past, saying that he still has to compete in other races after what can be a draining event. But he's also reserved the right to take back his vow that he was through with the race. As he said at a Grand Prix meet earlier this year, "Who knows?"
Phelps' teammate at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Allison Schmitt, signed up for all five of the women's freestyle races in Omaha, the 50-, 100-, 200-, 400- and 800-meters. She is coming off an invitational meet in Austin, Texas, earlier this month in which she swam the fastest time ever in the U.S. in the 200-meter race.
In the 2008 trials, Phelps entered the 100- and 200-meter freestyles, 200- and 400 individual medleys, 100 and 200 butterflys, 100- and 200 backstrokes and 400 free. But he ended up scratching the last three.
Phelps went eight-gold-for-eight in the Beijing Olympics, which included three relays. He and Bowman have tamped down expectations for London, saying Phelps would not swim that many races again, and that six or seven would be more likely.
Which six or seven, though, remains to be seen.
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