Mon, September 23, 2013

Olympic redemption may loom for Michael Phelps

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Michael Phelps adjusts his swim cap before his men's 200-metre butterfly heat at the London 2012 Olympic Games, July 30, 2012. (TOBY MELVILLE/Reuters)



LONDON - There is little disputing that these are no longer the Michael Phelps Olympics.

But there is plenty to be salvaged for the American superstar before his reputation takes too heavy a hit.

The swim meet is just three days old here and Phelps is a major storyline for what can only be viewed as surprising reasons while others share in the Olympic buzz.

There is Chinese swimmer Ye Shewin, a teenaged girl who is moving through the water faster than most males.

There is fellow American Ryan Lochte, who destroyed Phelps in the 400-metre individual medley on Saturday’s opening night, setting the tone for the Games. British bookmaker William Hill released odds on Tuesday that Lochte is 2-5 to win more gold than his rival, who you can back in that wager at 9-1.

And of course there is Phelps, who has a silver and a fourth from the first two of his seven medal races after the opening weekend. The American superstar didn’t have a medal race to contest on Monday, but will get a chance to get his fourth and final Olympics back on track Tuesday night, when he will be expected to compete in two finals.

“Phelps is a phenomenon, ” William Hill spokesman Rupert Adams said Monday. “But the odds suggest that he will not be the top medal winner in 2012.”

While that prognostication is starting to look obvious, it may be tougher to nail down why. One reason, certainly, is the emergence of Lochte, who left Phelps deep in his wake and off the podium on Saturday. Another might be Phelps’s preparation, which seemed to be lacking in that 400 IM thrashing on opening night.

All that said, Phelps needs just two medals to pass Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina’s Olympic record 18 career medals and odds are good he will claim them both Tuesday night. On tap are the 200-metre butterfly and 4x200-metre freestyle relay, each events in which Phelps is heavily favoured.

Of course, the level of dominance held by the 27-year-old Baltimore native appears to have diminished, making every race an adventure.

“He’s got easy speed,” Canadian swimmer David Sharpe said of Phelps on Monday following heats for the fly. “He’s got a great kick and he’s really changed the event for everybody else.

“But he’s been the best for 10 years. Everyone has had to adjust to what he does. People are catching up. (The final) is not going to be a blowout (win) at all.”

So how many medals can he win? Here’s a look at Phelps’s remaining races, and in four of the five he remains the gold-medal favourite, though perhaps not as prohibitive as he was a week ago.

TUESDAY

— 200-metre butterfly: If Phelps goes down in this one, people will really start to question his fitness and dominance. Interestingly, Phelps was 1-4 to win that race prior to Monday’s preliminary heat (in which he finished third but had the fifth-fastest time) and climbed to 4-5 after. Since winning gold in 2004, Phelps has owned this event, however, besting his own world record multiple times.

— 4x200-metre relay: The Americans are favoured in this race at odds of 1-3, but we saw what happened to them in the longer relay on Sunday night, when they settled for silver behind the French, who are back in this one. Phelps won gold in this event in each of the past two Olympics.

THURSDAY

— 200-metre individual medley: For the second time in these Games, Phelps will meet his new nemesis Lochte, who is listed as the 1-2 favourite. The shorter distance will help, though, and expect Phelps to gun harder in prelims to avoid the outside lane that didn’t help Saturday night. On Monday, he said he had put that 400 IM defeat behind him.

“I have no idea what it was but I don’t think it had anything to do with confidence,” Phelps said. “I felt I was ready to swim faster than that and once I got in the race, it just didn’t happen.”

FRIDAY

— 100-metre butterfly: Another of Phelps’s signature events and one in which he is the two-time defending champ, the reason he’s the better-than-even-money favourite at 8-15.

SATURDAY

— 4x100 metre medley: The folks at William Hill tell us the U.S. is the heavy 1-2 favourite followed by Australia at 5-1. When this one is over, we will be able to complete the final medal count on his brilliant career.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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