OMAHA, Neb.—Michael Phelps isn't shy about how much he loves to play poker. He plays it with friends, plays it in casinos with strangers, and sometimes plays it online, late at night.
But on the eve of the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, it's his coach, Bob Bowman, who will decide which hand Phelps will play in the Qwest Center pool this week. The event officially begins tomorrow, even though a severe storm damaged the Qwest Center yesterday and forced hundreds of swimmers practicing to evacuate the pools.
"I have no idea," Phelps said with a playful shrug. "I leave all that up to Bob. I never ask for the mile, and I always ask for the 50, and I never get what I want."
For instance, will he really swim the 100-meter and 200-meter backstrokes? Those are two events he has signed up for, and he could certainly win or finish in the top two. But only in a minor upset.
Bowman isn't tipping his hand.
"I think it's obvious [he's entered] in more events than he will swim," Bowman said. "We're going to take it day by day. Maybe some events he'll only swim in the prelims or the semifinals, just to get a feel for those events, or maybe he'll go the whole way."
Regardless of what events he swims, Phelps expects to go fast in the next week. And he's not the only one. One by one, U.S. swimmers filed into the interview room yesterday and predicted that world records will be in jeopardy this week.
Towson's Katie Hoff should take a crack at the 200 and 400 individual medley marks, and she might have some competition for a change. Natalie Coughlin recently broke Hoff's American record in the 200 IM.
"I really hope she decides to swim it, because it's only going to help the United States," Hoff said. "She'll push us to great times."
Hoff did say that it's unlikely she'll keep the 200 backstroke on her crowded schedule. But it's possible.
"I like swimming a lot of events," she said. "It helps spread the nervous energy out."
New swimsuits, tapered swimmers and a fast indoor pool will all play a role if world records fall, but so will anticipation and inspiration. The United States wants to send a message to the rest of the world that it has the fastest swimmers on the planet.
Breaststroker Brendan Hansen has been itching to climb into the pool ever since Japan's Kosuke Kitajima broke his world record in the 200-meter breaststroke this month.
"I hated to lose it, because when you have a world record, it's like your baby," Hansen said. "If you lost your baby, you'd do anything to get it back. Tapering the last three weeks has been really difficult for me. It's time for a rebuttal.
"I look at the [entries], and I believe this venue and these athletes are going to change the sport of swimming in the United States."