WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
Calling this week “more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge,” Michael Phelps begins competing on Wednesday at the ConocoPhillips National Championships and USA Swimming National Team Trials in Irvine, Calif.
With the high-tech full-body swim suit now banned by FINA, the sport’s international governing body, the 14-time Olympic gold medalist will swim in the Speedo knee-to-navel style jammer, a 1990s suit now back in demand.
Since the Jan. 1 worldwide ban went into effect, times have been noticeably slower at various meets around the world.
This week Phelps, who turned 25 in June, is entered in five events: the 100- and 200-meter butterfly, 200-meter freestyle, 200-meter individual medley and 200-meter backstroke. On Wednesday, his busiest day, he swims the 200 freestyle and 200 butterfly.
There is a lot at stake in the highly-competitive meet. The top two finishers in each event qualify for the Pan Pacific Championships at the end of the month in Irvine and from that group the U.S. team for next year’s world championships in China.
Failing to qualify for those teams means American swimmers would not be competing in a major international meet until the 2012 London Olympics.
Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is looking forward to seeing how some of the world’s best swimmers, including himself, will handle the ban on the high-tech suits that created a buzz in the swimming world. Forty-three world records alone were broken at the world championships in Rome.
“I still think you are going to see tight races,” Phelps said. “I would rather see a tight race than watch a world record get obliterated by five seconds.
“It’s really going to be interesting to see who can make the transition between wearing normal suits and not wearing banned suits,” Phelps said.
“It’s going to show who is willing to put in more work to be able to be in better physical shape. You’re not going to be able to float as easy on top of the water as you were with the banned suits.”
For Phelps, the meet will be a big test. More than a month ago in Paris after altitude training, he was disappointed with his results particularly his freestyle stroke which he has been struggling with. He said his freestyle “is a lot better than it was a few weeks ago.”
“I am more motivated now than I have been all year,” Phelps said. “Not being where you want to be is frustrating. You know what you need to do to get back and you know what you need to change.”
Phelps’ training has been hampered by the long time off (six months) he took after Beijing and inconsistent training.
“It’s all on me and the inconsistency of workouts,” Phelps admitted. “Not really putting in the yardage that I need to do to be able to compete at the level that I want to compete at.
“Not being as satisfied as I want to be leaving here I think is more than likely going to happen,” Phelps said. “I think not being in the best of shape that I could be in, and that I should be in, in my eyes is really going to be a test of how strong I can be mentally and how much I can work my mind to get through these next couple of weeks.”
South Florida Aquatic Club’s Tyler Sell competed in the first of his four events on Tuesday, the opening day of the five-day meet.
Sell, 18, headed to Florida State in a few weeks, finished the 400-meter freestyle in 4:08.66. His seed time was 3:58.03. On Wednesday, Sell, like Phelps, competes in the 200-meter freestyle and 200-meter butterfly.
In Tuesday night’s final races:
Women’s 100-meter butterfly: Chris Magnuson, 24, of Tucson Ford Dealership, the top morning qualifier, won in 57.32, out-touching American record holder Dana Vollmer, 22, of California Aquatics in 57.45. Natalie Coughlin, 27, of California Aquatics was fourth in 58.31.
Women’s 200-meter individual medley: Ariana Kukors, 21, of FAST Swim Team won in 2:10.54, edging Caitlin Leverenz, 19, of California Aquatics in 2:10.84. Teenager Missy Franklin, 15, of the Colorado Stars and one of USA Swimming’s young rising stars, was fourth in 2:11.69.
Women’s 400-meter freestyle: American record holder Katie Hoff, 21, of FAST Swim Team, has her mojo back. After two tough years, she won her third national title in 4:05.50, off her AR of 4:02.20. Allison Schmitt, 20, of North Baltimore was second in 4:06.19.
Men’s 400-meter freestyle: Peter Vanderkaay, 26, of Club Wolverine, fastest morning qualifier, defended his title to win in 3:46.88. Michael Klueh, 23, of Longhorn Aquatics was second in 3:48.24.
Men’s 100-meter breaststroke: In an exciting race, Michael Alexandrov, 25, of Tucson Ford Dealership won his second national title as a U.S. citizen in 1:00.26, finishing ahead of both Mark Gangloff, 28, swimming unattached in 1:00.42 and Eric Shanteau of Longhorn Aquatics in 1:00.75. Alexandrov had been a dual citizen of Bulgaria and the U.S. before declaring he will race for the U.S. last year. His time moved him to fourth in the world.
Men’s 400-meter individual medley: Ryan Lochte , 26, of Daytona Beach showed he is back from knee surgery with a win in 4:09.98. Tyler Clary, 21, of FAST Swim Team was second in 4:14.12.
Other Florida Gold Coast results:
Women’s 100-meter butterfly: 46. Chelsea Britt, 15, FLA 1:01.67.
Women’s 400-meter freestyle: 9. Lauren Driscoll, 16, FLA, 4:10.24, just outside the Top 25 in the world.
Men’s 400-meter freestyle: 60. Joey Pedraza, 23, Davie Nadadoes, 4:02.50.
Men’s 100-meter breaststroke: 45. Nicholas Manousos, 19, Davie Nadadores, 1:04.89.
The national championships is following the traditional meet schedule of morning prelims (12 noon EST) and evening finals (9 p.m. EST). The competition will be broadcast by NBC in two shows at Saturday, Aug. 7 and Sunday, 8. The Aug. 7 show will air from 4-6 p.m. EST and the show on Aug. 8 from 4:30-6 p.m. EST.
In addition, Universal Sports will broadcast finals live on Wednesday (9-11 p.m. EST). The meet will also be webcast live by Swimnetwork.com for the entire meet.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com.