July 23, 2011
WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
Three-time Olympian Michael Phelps has that “old feeling” back in the pool which is bad news for his rivals.
“I kind of feel like my own self,” Phelps said Saturday during a crowded press conference held the day before the XIV FINA World Aquatic Championships swimming events begin at the Oriental Sports Center’s indoor pool in Shanghai.
“I have been excited and happy to be around the pool,” said Phelps, who will make his final appearance at world championships. “I am ready to compete. I feel good in the water.”
For the 14-time Olympic gold medalist, that hasn’t always been the case during a slump where he lost his signature 200-meter butterfly event three times this year, lost his motivation and fire that helped him become the all-time greatest swimmer in the world at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Now Phelps returns to China to compete for the first time since his Olympic record eight gold medal-performance rewrote history.
“I felt like you had to twist my arm to get into the pool,” Phelps said. “I was like kicking and screaming not wanting to go to the pool. This year has changed a lot. I can’t stand to lose, so I had to change something. I think I realized if I don’t show up to work out I’m hurting myself, I’m not hurting anybody else. I have to take responsibility for what I do in and out of the pool.”
Two months ago, Phelps pulled out his 14 Olympic gold medals from a secret hiding place to show his sister and looked at them for only the second time since 2008.
“In my eyes I consider myself a normal person,” Phelps said. “Everything is a stepping stone. The last two years haven’t been how we have wanted them to be but they were what they were.
“This week is going to be a big test to see what my body can handle for next year. This year I feel like we have taken some steps forward and made some progress that is going to be big for the next year.”
The 26-year-old Phelps plans to swim in seven events in Shanghai. He is entered in the 200 freestyle, 100 and 200 butterfly, 200 individual medley and three relays. He will get started with the 400-meter freestyle relay, the most anticipated event on Sunday with France, which was leading at the 2008 Olympics and Russia, which was second at 2009 worlds, looking for revenge.
Phelps and Ryan Lochte are expected to go head-to-head in the 200-meter individual medley. Lochte is the defending champion and was the top swimmer in 2010.
“I know I am definitely a better swimmer than I was in 2008,” said Lochte, who trains in Gainesville. “We’re going to put on a show. I am definitely going into the competition with some expectations.”
Brazilian Olympic and world champion Cesar Cielo, cleared to compete after a doping scandal, will compete in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events. It will be interesting to see the reception he receives on the pool deck and from fans. Several swimmers and coaches are upset with the wrist slap Cielo received for testing positive for a banned diuretic that is used to mask other performance-enhancing drugs.
“Right now I don’t think there’s a lot of happy people around the pool,” said American Jason Lezak.
Phelps, Lochte and Lezak will be joined by Natalie Coughlin and Jessica Hardy and other veterans in addition to 16-year-old sensation Missy Franklin, who is making her worlds debut after an outstanding season last year.
South Florida Aquatic Club’s lone swimmer in the meet, Vlad Polyakov, will begin competing on Sunday in the prelims of the 100-meter breaststroke.
Polyakov is also entered in the 50- and 200-meter breaststroke. The two-time Olympian from Kazakhstan hopes to make the Olympic qualifying time in the 100 (1:00.79). He is close with a 1:01.03.
“Despite the fact that I hadn’t put in enough training before these World Championships, I have a good feeling about this meet,” Polyakov said. “I feel like I have plenty of speed and power. I just need to have every bit of it available on the day of the race.”
Unlike 2009 where the high-tech body suits were used and 43 world records were broken left and right over eight days, swimmers will return to the conventional textile suits which will not result in as many world records, if any at all.
“I think it’s great we are all back to the same suits,” said Aussie three-time Olympic champion Stephanie Rice. “It’s something that can play in the back of your mind, whether it’s a suit that you’re wearing or not wearing.”
The swimming will be televised on Sunday, 2-4 p.m., July 30, 1-3 p.m. and July 31, 1-3 p.m. all on NBC. Also Universal Sports is televising the full meet at universalsports.com. There is a feature on the website where you plug in your zip code and it will tell you which TV service is showing the world championships in your neighborhood.
Open water swimming
In the controversial final event of the open water swimming program, Petar Stoychev of Bulgaria and Brazilian Ana Marcela Cunha, who trains with the Davie Nadadores, won the 25K world titles at Jinsan City Beach in a race overshadowed by concerns of the hot, humid air and water temperatures. Water temp was 90.7 degrees, above the limit.
Stoychev, 35, won in 5 hours, 10:39.8 ahead of Russia’s Vladymir Dyatchin in 5:11:15.6.
Cunha won by a body length and sprint finish in 5:29:22.9 ahead of Angela Maurer of Germany, 5:29:25. She won by just 2.1 seconds. Alice Franco took bronze.
Stoychev is the only athlete to have completed in 12 consecutive FINA open water world championship events.
“This was probably my last world championship,” said Stoychev, who was 27th in the 10K event. “I never won a gold medal from a world championship before so it never crossed my mind that I could do it today. I just want to have a rest now with water and ice.”
Said Cunha, “I am very emotional about winning the gold medal in the world championships. I’m so happy to be here.”
More than twenty swimmers did not finish the race and several were carried away on stretchers. Nearly half the men’s field did not finish. Six women were pulled out. Defending women’s champion Linsy Heister of the Netherlands withdrew from the race along with 5K winner Thomas Lurz of Germany.
Team USA coach Jack Roach, a former South Florida coach, asked his swimmers not to compete. USA Swimming also recommended that all its athletes withdraw and the only one who chose to start, Claire Thompson, 22, who was chased down and forcibly fished out of the water for safety concerns. She was told to stop swimming by U.S. coaches. Coaches said she looked to be in distress. Haley Anderson and Alex Meyer both scratched from the 25K.
Fran Crippen’s untimely tragic death last October in a FINA-sanctioned open water 10K event in the United Arab Emirates raised awareness of the lack of safety and concerns for swimmers, but complaints from coaches and swimmers about the 25K conditions fell on deaf ears with FINA officials. Team USA wears FC initials on their warmups in memory of Crippen.
“USA Swimming felt it in the best interest of athlete safety that they not compete today,” according to a released statement. “Athlete safety is USA Swimming’s top priority. The water temperature was very near to exceeding the recommendations made by the open water commission.”
Later at a press conference, FINA officials would not listen to the criticism saying “it was a very good race.”
Wu Mingxia held off her teammate He Zi by 1.7 points to win her first world title in the women’s 3-meter springboard event and ninth gold medal and 13th overall for China’s diving powerhouse.
Wu, 25, finished with 380.85 and He had 379.15. Earlier in the week they combined to win the springboard synchro title.
“It’s not easy to win the gold medal,” Wu said. “Overall, I did better in prelims and semifinals. I overcame many difficulties in the past year. My next goal is to qualify for the London Olympics and win the gold there.”
China could complete its sweep of the gold medals on Sunday when Qio Bo competes on 10-meter platform. Only Brit Olympic champ Tom Daley could derail China’s streak.
Canada’s Jennifer Abel finished third with 365.10 points and took the bronze. She was 11th two years ago in Rome.
American 2008 Olympian Christina Loukas was fourth with 350.1 points. It was the best finish by a U.S. woman at worlds since 1994. The U.S. clinched two more spots for the U.S. team at the 2012 Olympics.
“My primary goal for this meet was to get in the Top 12 to get an Olympic spot for Team USA,” Loukas said. “Today I just wanted to have fun and do my thing like I do in practice. I dove well, and I’m really happy with my performance.”
Adding to the excitement of China’s victory, was recently retired NBA star Yao Ming watching the final and signing autographs.
Australia held on for a 10-9 victory over two-time champion Hungary in a women’s playoff match. Rowan Webster scored four goals for the Aussies who will now advance into Monday’s quarterfinals against Spain. In other games, the Netherlands beat New Zealand, 14-6, advancing to the quarterfinals against Greece. Russia routed Cuba, 26-4 and China beat Spain, 15-6; Kazakhstan edged Uzbekistan, 14-13 and Brazil beat South Africa, 10-9. The men’s competition is Sunday with a battle for top eight positions.
Russia completed the gold medal sweep in the sport by winning all seven gold medals offered in synchronized swimming. Russia’s eight-woman team won the final event, the team free, to give Natalia Ishchenko, 25, her sixth gold medal. She has sixteen world championship gold medals and team gold at the 2008 Olympic Games. Russia won the gold medal with 98.620 points followed by China with 96.850 for the silver and Spain took the bronze with 96.090.
China and Russia dominated the first half of the world championships in the medal tally. After Day Eight, China has 20 medals overall including nine gold and Russia has 13 medals including seven golds. The U.S. has two medals including one gold.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com