Connect with Us:  

Phelps: The Motivation Machine Purrs Anew

Feb 4, 2011  - Craig Lord

Michael Phelps is back on track, is in "really good physical shape" and heading to a three-week camp in good spirits after making a "dramatic improvement" in his commitment to training over the past two months, according to coach and mentor Bob Bowman.

Ian Thorpe's comeback this week prompted Bowman to tell SwimNews that the Australian's awaited return provides "another carrot out there" for Phelps, who in 2010 missed more training sessions than he had ever skipped throughout his stellar career and was perceived to be swinging into a lesser realm and level of threat out on the golf course.

That image is about to die a death. In answer to the question 'is his motivation and his commitment where it would need to be if he is to be the competitive force we have known him to be', Bowman told SwimNews: "If you'd have asked me that two months ago I would have said 'no'. Today, I definitely say 'yes'. There has been a dramatic improvement in him, his level of focus and the work he is doing. It's looking very good as we head into three weeks at altitude. He's in really good physical shape, better than I have seen him for a while."

That altitude camp will unfold at Colorado Springs from next week, the aim to have Phelps emerge a fighting force on his way to the greatest Olympians Olympic swansong at London 2012 via the world title sin London 2012. Thorpe is back, Paul Biedermann (GER), Sun Yang (CHN), Danila Izotov (RUS), Park Tae Hwan (KOR) and others are all in his path, while the biggest obstacle is closest to home: Ryan Lochte (USA), superstar of 2010 and heading to Shanghai as favourite for a repeat performance in 2011.

On Thorpe's chances of being back to best by London 2012, less than two years after he returned to the pool to get fit, Bowman told SwimNews: "Time will tell. He's a great competitor. He's a fabulous talent. The question is exactly that: is there time? But he has a great background." One built on the back of the work of Doug Frost, a coach whose name you will struggle to find in reports this week Down Under. Frost is working with Britain these days and based at Glasgow, a fair distance from Abu Dhabi and some of those other places where Thorpe says he intends to prepare for London 2012.

How much would absolutely desire dictate Thorpe's chances? "It's of the utmost importance. It's the thing that counts most. He has to have the drive," said Bowman. His own supercharged swimmer had lost some of that last year in the wake of a decade of hardly ever having taken his foot off the throttle, his "down moments" of the kind that most mortals would consider to be soaring heights. Even in 2010, he was to be found at the helm of the world rankings on 100m 'fly, by some margin, and in the top 6 in 6 other events, including No 2 spots in his signature 200m 'fly and in the 100m free.

Bowman is smiling again as he places the words motivation machine and Phelps in the same sentence once more.

If all goes well for both men, they will be tested together over 100m and 200m freestyle. Thorpe's physiology makes Bowman lean towards the 200m as his natural event, regardless of Thorpe's 2004 success and gains in the 100m free that led to a bronze medal and an entry in the history books as the only man to stand on an Olympic podium over 100m, 200m and 400m (200m having being absent from the programme between 1908 and 1964).

"Everything he does to improve his fitness and work on aspects of his stroke will improve his 200," said Bowman, while the "100m is a big ask".

Did he favour the 50m men over the 200m men for the 100m crown in London? "It's in the balance. Swimmers going for the 50 and 100 have those two events. The 200m swimmers tend to have more events they're going for, more ground to cover, and the programme can be a hard one." 

He added this: "I maybe wrong but if you look at the people who win the 100m, they have a really strong second 50." Alex Popov, Pieter Van Den Hoogenband, Alain Bernard, all better than average on that homecoming decider, two more useful over 50m than 200m, the other a 200m Olympic champion and former world record holder. Hoogie and Thorpe were rolling into the wall like thunder in the last metres of the blue-ribband final, the 200m arch-rivals the only two men in the race capable of getting inside 25sec on the way home.

Much has changed since then, including suits, forwards to assisted speed and backwards to reality. "That will make a big difference," said Bowman. "In terms of streamlining and stroke he [Thorpe] should have no trouble. He set a world record in briefs. But what will make the difference is the speed off walls and the underwaters. He didn't push the boundaries very much on that at his best."

Where the shiny suits helped a lot of people off the walls and underwater, swimmers were back to a place where they had to work hard over long periods of time to achieve those kind of gains and make best use of the fifth stroke.

Phelps and Lochte are pioneers of the art, dolphin-kicking the sport to another level since 2007. The Dolphin back in their midst will need to find the dolphin within.