Phelps wants to swim nine events

Updated: July 12, 2004, 10:07 PM ET
Associated Press

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Michael Phelps would like to get as many as nine chances to win seven gold medals and match Mark Spitz's record.

Then again, should Phelps be part of the 400-meter freestyle relay -- one of the signature events in the Olympic pool -- when he didn't try to qualify for the event at the U.S. swimming trials?

That emerged as a major issue at the trials, where Phelps -- already swimming six other events -- skipped the 100 freestyle competition that also was used to pick at least four members of the relay team.

Phelps has qualified for the 800 freestyle relay team, and he's likely to swim on the 400 medley relay team, as well. If he swims nine events in Athens, he should challenge Spitz's record of seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Games.

The ultimate decision on who swims the relay will be made by Eddie Reese, the U.S. men's coach. He made it clear that Phelps will receive strong consideration, even though at least two swimmers questioned whether he deserves a spot.

"I support Michael and his goals," Gary Hall Jr. said Monday. "I want to see the relay team win gold. But I think it's only fair to an individual who swam it here and earned his place to have a chance to swim in the Olympics."

Added Jason Lezak, who won the 100 free on Sunday, "He's got to prove himself by swimming a time trial or something before the Games to show he's capable. You can't put him on the team just because he's Michael Phelps."

But Reese said he has no intention of asking Phelps to swim a time trial, having already seen enough of the 19-year-old during other meets. Phelps also impressed the coach by taking part in a relay camp in the spring, working to improve his takeoffs.

"I don't need to see him swim anymore," Reese said. "He already swam enough."

Phelps posted a time of 49.05 seconds in the 100 free during the spring nationals in Orlando, Fla. -- a time that would have placed second at the trials. Lezak won in 48.41, followed by Ian Crocker (49.06), Hall (49.16) and Neil Walker (49.38).

Lezak and Crocker are assured of swimming the relay final, while Hall and Walker also qualified for the Olympic team automatically. The fifth- and sixth-place finishers, Nate Dusing (49.40) and Gabe Woodward (45.45), probably will be headed to Athens, too.

The coaching staff can choose from that pool of swimmers -- using one lineup for the morning preliminaries, another for the evening final.

The United States is intent on reclaiming gold after finishing second to the Australians in Sydney, the first time an American team failed to win the 400 free relay since it was added to the Olympic program in 1964.

It was a memorable race. The Aussies, anchored by Ian Thorpe, won in a world record 3:13.67. The U.S. foursome -- Lezak, Hall, Walker and Anthony Ervin -- also went under the previous mark at 3:13.86, but it was only good enough for silver. Four years later, those are still the two fastest times in swimming history.

"We want to use the guys who give us the best chance to win gold," Reese said.

Phelps skipped the 100 free at Long Beach because of his grueling schedule. He already had qualified in three individual events heading into Monday's evening session, when he had two more finals -- the 200 individual medley, which he won, and a showdown with world record-holder Aaron Peirsol in the 200 backstroke, in which he finished second.

Bob Bowman, Phelps' coach, said he's not concerned about his swimmer getting a chance in the 400 free relay.

"I think that will take care of itself," Bowman said. "He's already proven he's at top form, or close to it."

Walker seems most vulnerable when it comes to picking a final lineup. The top two are locks and Hall is one of the greatest sprinters in U.S. history, an eight-time medalist who anchored the relay team at the last two Olympics.

Whatever happens, Walker is OK with it.

"It's not about being fair; it's about being fast," he said. "A decision like this has never been made before. But we give a lot of leeway to the coaches. I'm sure there will be no dissension on the team no matter what the coaches decide."

Three-time gold medalist Josh Davis knows what it's like to swim a relay in the morning, then sit out the final. He was bumped from the evening lineup in Sydney.

"I was very proud to be a substitute swimmer," said Davis, who still earned a silver medal. "I felt like I played an important role."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press