SPORT

Can Phelps better Spitz’s record?

AIMING FOR GLORY: Michael Phelps, seen here at the US Olympics trials, will be all keyed up as he attempts to chase down Mark Sptiz’s all-time record.

AIMING FOR GLORY: Michael Phelps, seen here at the US Olympics trials, will be all keyed up as he attempts to chase down Mark Sptiz’s all-time record.   | Photo Credit: — AFP

A. Vinod

Australia has slight edge in women’s swimming

Swimming, as D-day keeps fast approaching, looks to have all the elements to emerge as the sport in the Beijing Olympics. And, it could well be quite a ride as Michael Phelps return to the quadrennial extravaganza with records to break, over-riding a free-for-all in the women’s section wherein Australia looks to have a slight edge over its rivals.

Phelps’ pursuit of Mark Spitz’s epic at Munich in 1972, for sure, is to remain the focus of the August 9-17 competitions as the Baltimore swimmer, aged just 23, gets a second chance to raise the bar of winning the most number of gold medals in a single Olympics.

In trying to eclipse Spitz’s seven in Munich, Phelps would be going in for five individual gold medals (200m and 400m individual medley, 100m and 200m butterfly and 200m freestyle) besides the three relays in the Chinese capital.

Other contenders

While the American thus could remain the key figure of the Games, there are others in the U.S. squad, who will be attempting their own chapters of Olympic glory. Like, Aaron Peirsol, owner of the 100m world record outright and shares the 200m mark with team Ryan Lochte, who will be back to defend the backstroke double that he earned in Athens.

The other Americans swimmers attempting to hog the limelight will be Ian Crocker, the 100m butterfly world record holder, Brendon Hansen, the 100m breaststroke specialist, veteran Jason Lezak and young Garrett Weber-Gale in the freestyle sprints and Larsen Jensen and Peter Vanderkaay in the distance events.

Apart from the Americans, the swimmers who are likely to keenly followed are Australia’s Earmon Sullivan (the 50m free world record holder) and Grant Hackett, a five-time Olympic medallist, Japan’s Kousuke Kitajima, who won the breaststroke double in Athens, Dutchman Pieter van Hoogenband, appearing in his fourth Olympics, Frenchmen Alain Bernard and Amaury Leveaux, Sweden’s Stefan Nystrand and Italian Filippo Magnini, to name only a few.

China’s medal hopeful

China has never won a swimming medal at the Olympics, but Wu Peng would try his best to rewrite history as he races against Phelps in the 100m and 200m butterfly. Also in the reckoning for attention will be freestyler Zhang Lin.

The Australians are likely to have their say in the women’s section. And the one who could make a big splash looks to be Libby Trickett (nee Lenton) by winning the gold medals in the 50m, 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly.

Her match will be her own team-mate, Stephanie Rice, an individual medley specialist who can give the American favourite, Katie Hoff and Zimbabwean Kirsty Conventry, a good swim for their money.

The 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle races in this section could well shape up to be the best races in Beijing, in the presence of Frenchwomen Laure Manaudou, Italian Federica Pellegrini, Aussie Bronte Barratt alongside Hoff and her team-mate Kate Ziegler.

In the back stroke, it should be Coventry who will be dominant in both 100m and 200m, while in the breaststroke, there could be little challenge for Aussie Leisel Jones, who seems to be a class apart from her rivals on current form. In butterfly too, the Aussies have a good chance to end up with medals from Jessicah Schipper, though in the 200m she could face a tough challenge from Poland’s Otylia Jedrzejczak, the winner of the event four years ago.

American veterans

Besides Hoff, the American challenge at the Games will be led by veterans Dara Torres, Amanda Beard and Natalie Coughlin. Hoff, who considers Phelps as her pseudo elder brother, figuring in her second Olympics, is to be entered in six events.

The interesting part of the swimming programme in Beijing is that all the finals of the 32 events have been moved to the morning to suit American prime time television. Another notable factor in these Games will be introduction of open water swimming for the first time.

The races, 10km for both men and women, should see Germany’s Thomas Lurz and Russia’s Larisa Ilchenko, the current world champions, start as the obvious favourites.

Look out for them as well, while you stay glued to Phelps and Trickett.

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