Phelps back on top as fo­cus turns to Rio

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY PAUL NEW­BERRY

Michael Phelps al­ready has far more medals than any Olympic ath­lete.

There is no longer any rea­son to doubt he’ll have another mas­sive haul in Rio.

Not af­ter an as­tound­ing week­end in swel­ter­ing San An­to­nio, where Phelps turned in a per­for­mance at the U.S. na­tional cham­pi­onships that re-es­tab­lished his place as the world’s dom­i­nant swim­mer.

He churned through the wa­ter, his body as ripped and fit as ever, pro­duc­ing times that haven’t been seen since the days of the high-tech body­suits. When ri­val swim­mer Chad le Clos trash-talked from afar, it only made Phelps go faster.

“I did what I came here to do,” he said Mon­day.

Phelps was barred from the world cham­pi­onships af­ter his sec­ond drunken-driv­ing ar­rest, so he turned the na­tional cham­pi­onships into his big­gest meet of the year.

Never mind that this was es­sen­tially a ju­nior-var­sity event, largely made up of promis­ing young­sters, a few late bloomers and a smat­ter­ing of big-name swim­mers who failed to qual­ify for worlds.

Hardly the sort of com­pe­ti­tion that Phelps is used to fac­ing, but he wasn’t con­cerned about the guy in the next lane. His at­ten­tion was fo­cused on Kazan, Rus­sia — specif­i­cally, the win­ning times at worlds in the 100-me­ter but­ter­fly, the 200-me­ter fly, and the 200-me­ter in­di­vid­ual med­ley.

Phelps was de­ter­mined to beat them all, to prove to ev­ery­one he was the real cham­pion.

Mis­sion Ac­com­plished

Phelps’ times in the fly harkened back to 2009, when rub­ber­ized suits made a mock­ery of the clock. His per­for­mance in the 200 IM was faster than any­one has gone since he won gold at the 2012 Olympics.

“I pre­pared my­self for the best and the worst,” he said. “I thought that was some­thing that re­ally made an im­pact on me be­ing so re­laxed. I was ready for any­thing. That’s some­thing I got back to, some­thing I haven’t done in a while.”

Af­ter win­ning eight gold medals at the 2008 Bei­jing Olympics, knock­ing off Mark Spitz’s iconic Olympic record, Phelps had largely ac­com­plished what he wanted to do in the sport by age 23. His train­ing fell off.

There was that no­to­ri­ous tabloid pic­ture of him in­hal­ing from a mar­i­juana pipe. And when he failed to even win a medal in his first event at Lon­don, it looked as though his time had passed.

Be­ing Michael Phelps, he bounced back to cap­ture four golds and two sil­vers at the 2012 Games, mak­ing him the most dec­o­rated ath­lete in Olympic history. He re­tired af­ter his last event in Lon­don, with 18 golds, 22 medals over­all, and sup­pos­edly no de­sire to keep swimming into his 30s.

Well, here he is, about six weeks re­moved from his 30th birth­day, on top of the game again.

His re­tire­ment barely lasted a year. His come­back has hardly been smooth, though. When he was ar­rested again for DUI last Septem­ber, Phelps de­cided to take a long, hard look at him­self. He went through six weeks of in­pa­tient ther­apy, which helped him deal with ev­ery­thing from fam­ily dy­nam­ics (his par­ents di­vorced when he was a child, re­sult­ing in a strained re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther) to is­sues with al­co­hol.

‘Not to drink’

Phelps vowed not to drink at least through the Rio Games and made a com­mit­ment to get in the best shape of his life. That work has clearly paid off. He’s more mus­cu­lar, more de­fined. His body didn’t hurt nearly as much as he thought it would af­ter back-to­back- to- back races, though he re­quires more sleep than he did in his younger days.

“My body doesn’t feel tired; I’m just sleepy,” he said. “That’s the big­gest thing, just stay­ing on top of my sleep.”

By the end of the month, he’ll move from his beloved Bal­ti­more to the Phoenix area to re­main with long­time coach Bob Bow­man, who is tak­ing over at Ari­zona State. They have one of the long­est, most suc­cess­ful part­ner­ships in sports, and Phelps’ trust in his coach never wa­vers.

From all in­di­ca­tions, Phelps will swim the same three in­di­vid­ual events in Rio that he dom­i­nated in San An­to­nio. (For good mea­sure, he fin­ished fifth in the 200-me­ter breast­stroke Mon­day on the fi­nal night of na­tion­als, a race he de­scribed as “just a fun, joke-around event.” Of course, he posted a per­sonal-best time.)

Bow­man would like to try the 200-me­ter freestyle at a few warmup meets over the next year, but he doesn’t think that will be part of the Olympic pro­gram.

Phelps will be busy enough as it is. He is sure to be on all three re­lays af­ter the U.S. men turned in a dis­mal per­for­mance at worlds, fail­ing to even qual­ify for the 400 free re­lay fi­nal.

“Ob­vi­ously we have a lot of work to do,” Phelps said, a dis­gusted tone in his voice. “The world isn’t afraid of us any­more.”

On his own, Phelps will be fac­ing much stiffer com­pe­ti­tion at the Olympics than he did in Texas.

Long­time Amer­i­can ri­val Ryan Lochte is still in the mix, com­ing off his fourth straight world the 200 IM.

“When he and I race, we leave ev­ery­thing in the pool,” Phelps said. “You can say that’s a true ri­valry in the sport.”

That sounded like of a bit of a dig at Le Clos, who up­set Phelps in the 200 fly at Lon­don and pre­dicts their show­down in Rio will be the swimming equiv­a­lent of AliFra­zier.

The South African isn’t back­ing down, ei­ther.

“I don’t fear Michael Phelps,” Le Clos said Sun­day in Kazan. “I never have and I never will.” On to Rio.

ti­tles in

AP

(Above) Michael Phelps checks the board for his time af­ter he com­peted in the pre­lim­i­nary round of the men’s 200-me­ter breast­stroke at the the U.S. swimming na­tion­als in San An­to­nio, Mon­day, Aug. 10. (Right) Michael Phelps, front, com­petes in the pre­lim­i­nary round of the men’s 200-me­ter breast­stroke at the the U.S. swimming na­tion­als, Mon­day.

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