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Bowman & Phelps Still To Decide

Jul 1, 2012  - Craig Lord

Would the greatest Olympian of all-time be doing all eight races in London, the same races as he had swum for that Beijing golden bonanza in 2008? 

Michael Phelps raised an eyebrow, smirked and raised his left arm in a passing motion to the man sat beside him: "I don't have anything to do with that; that's his call. Maestro here - he takes care of all of that. It's just going to be what we think we can do. Once we move forward and we start training, we'll know exactly what we're going to be able to handle at that level, a high competition level."

For the first time this week, Bob Bowman hinted that a repeat of Beijing may not happen. "I think we have to talk about the program," he said. "I wanted him to get through tonight so we could see how it went, and we'll decide what he should do. One of the things that I can answer is he is definitely not fully rested for this. He wasn't sharp here, he didn't feel like he had any speed, so I love that he did some decent times and there is room for improvement."

Phelps repeated what he has already said on the  subject of eight to less: "Over the last four years, I haven't really done anything, so I haven't been able to handle too much. So being able to handle or have what happened this week shows I can handle a little more, but there are still some things that need to be perfected over the next couple of weeks. Bob and I know what those are."

Tonight's victory (nothing less would have done) marked his last race in US waters, the last walk out in front of a home crowd. The emotion was tangible in his voice and in the expression on Bowman's face.

Asked to speak on the difference between four years ago and heading to Beijing and this time around, Phelps paused, look at his hands and said: "I think the only thing that's different in my eyes, really, is this is my last one on American soil, my last Olympic Trials swim. That's it. It's kind of weird.

"Bob and I, when we walked into the pool, we said this was our last Olympic Trials swim, and it's crazy to think about 12 years ago I made my first team, and I was standing there watching Katie [Ledecky] tonight, and same kind of thing, she went out there and put it on the line and swam a great race. Definitely a lot of memories and I guess emotions running through my head."

The moment may have been poignant but there was a job still to be done and a teammate called Ryan Lochte waiting in the wings for a showdown in three solo events.

"I always love competition," said Phelps. "I'm always a fan of quotes, statements, whatever you want to say they are. So it was a fun week, and I guess same thing, I want to try not to play cat and mouse over the next three weeks and try to swim my own races, and you can probably count on there will be some other close races in the next couple of weeks."

Bowman interjected: "Not that close, hopefully!"

A smiling Phelps nodded and thought back to a moment on the deck this evening when old sparring partner Ian Crocker had handed him his medal for the 100m butterfly. "Like Summer [Sanders] said earlier, no more," said Phelps. "I thought about Ian Crocker's 4/100th of a second [the margin by which Phelps beat Crocker for the 2004 Olympic title] and I'm going to keep him [Lochte] over [at arms length by] the 1/10th barrier."

Said Bowman, "that would be nice", but direct focus on external forces was not part of the main thrust when it came to motivating Michael. "We mainly focused on trying to make him the best he could be," said the coach. "Even though I see some things in the Google search that come up, I'll pass them on to him; I think they might fire him up a little bit, but it's not a big part of the program. We're mainly focused on trying to correct things that he needs to correct and sort of work on things that we think will make him fast in the meet."

Finishes, for example.  In tight calls over the last 5 to 10m, what got him to the wall first? "The easiest thing to say is hitting the finish. I think one thing that we do a lot of in workout is working on stroke control and counting strokes, and I know how many strokes I take for each lap. Ever since the 2008 200 'fly in Beijing when I pretty much swam blind the whole race [water in his goggles], I find myself in a pattern of counting every butterfly, especially. I count every stroke. It's just sort of - I know what I do, and it just happens. I just hit the wall. I want to see tonight - I haven't seen the tape from tonight's race but Bob said the glide was…"

Bowman interjected: "He glided but it was a smart glide. Unlike Beijing, if he had taken a stroke here, he would have been beaten."

"…so I want to look at that and see. I trust him, but I like to see it for myself," continued Phelps, Bowman noting: "He always likes to see it for himself."

A reporter asked what his expectations were for London. "The goals I have, and that's the only thing I have in my head," said Phelps. "I can ask you guys what your expectations are for me. I'm sure I will read about it (cue laughter). The goals that I have are something that are exciting for me and something to make me motivated.

"Being able to come here and have the week that I did I was very pleased with, but watching the races there are a lot of things that I can improve on, and like Bob said, I told him - we were texting each other the other night and he asked me how I felt, and I told him, "I don't feel as peppy as I usually do at big meets," and he was asking why that was, and I said, "I don't know."

Bowman: "I know why that is."

"So like I said," Phelps comes in. "I leave everything up to him training-wise and preparing me. He's done an amazing job for my career, and I trust him fully. We will work on things over the next couple of weeks and hopefully they will make a difference in London."

Was he truly passionate about his campaign? "Yeah, I'm still excited about the Olympics," replied Phelps. "It's the biggest stage to perform at. You get to go out and wear the stars and stripes and the red, white and blue, so, yes, to be able to be an Olympian, not many people can say that, and I think that's something that I will be able to say for the rest of my life. The experiences that I have had not only being on the National Team but also the Olympic Team have changed my life. I'm looking forward to -  saying this makes me feel really old. It's nuts! It's going to be fun, and I'm looking forward to it."

A subtle hint to wrap things up followed as Bowman said with a smile: "Right now we're looking forward to dinner."

That would have to wait until he and the coach considered whether attempting eight this time round was even more impressive than it had been in Beijing, considering the motivational troubles a long the way.

"It's impressive that he's here at all, in some aspects," said Bowman. "That he would feel desire to come back and lay himself out there, particularly with a program like this. So, yeah, I think it's a tremendous statement about his ability to compete and also about his desire to promote the sport of swimming, which I think was a big part of this. As you can see - it's working."