Swimming coach Bob Bowman was relaxing in his hotel room last Thursday night, nearing the end of a rare vacation in Rehoboth Beach, Del., when his cell phone rang. Bowman stared at the screen. His most famous pupil, Michael Phelps, was calling. This was odd. It was after 9 p.m., during a two-week training vacation for both.
The first words out of Phelps’s mouth, Bowman recalled, were, “I just want you to know I’m okay.”
“Excuse me,” Bowman said he responded, “this has all the [makings] of something I don’t want to hear.”
It wasn’t nearly as bad as Bowman feared. Phelps reported that he was standing next to his dented Cadillac Escalade in the middle of a Baltimore intersection after a traffic accident. But he was okay, nobody was hurt and, it appeared, a woman in another vehicle had run a red light to cause the crash that got media attention within minutes, thanks to cell phone calls and Twitter updates from the scene.
The impact caused Phelp’s right foot to hit either the gas pedal or the airbag that deployed, causing him “residual pain,” Bowman said. It also forced him to delay his return to training by a day. But after X-rays showed no break, Phelps limped to the pool Tuesday and got back in the water, beginning what Bowman said would be his most important year of training leading up to the 2012 Summer Games in London.
It also signaled his return to an old, textile jammer for competition — at least if Bowman has his way.
“This year is all about the training,” Bowman said. “The training we do this year will be the foundation of what happens in London … If you look at the big picture, the fall and winter are very important training times. We’re going to Europe, but we’re not going to do anything special, [not going to] swim super times.”
Bowman said Phelps would swim in a pair of short-course (25-meter pool) world cup events in Berlin, Germany, and Stockholm, Sweden, in mid-November, competing purely for fun and a change of pace. Arguably the most interesting part of what will be a rare short-course meters event for Phelps will be his wardrobe choice.
Bowman said he wants all of his athletes at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club immediately to adopt the suit ban the world swimming governing body has vowed to implement by January 1, 2010. That means wearing either textile jammers (waist-to-knee suits for men) or, for women, suits that don’t extend below the knee or beyond the shoulders — even though other swimmers likely will continue to race in the full-body, high-tech suits that led to the ban in the first place.
“I would almost guarantee he is probably going to wear the jammer,” Bowman said. “My recommendation would be: ‘Just move on.’
Phelps has always said he wears what Bowman tells him to wear, which could mean some interesting races — or utter lack of competition — against Germany’s Paul Biedermann at the world cups, should Biedermann continue to wear his state-of-the-art Arena X-Glide. Biedermann crushed Phelps, who was wearing his 2008 model full-body Speedo LZR, at the July 26-Aug. 3 world championships in Rome, shaving about four seconds off of his best time from last year and taking Phelps’s world record.
Besides that silver in the 200 free, Phelps won five gold medals.
“Michael enjoys racing him, but he would definitely enjoy racing him more if that variable were not in there all of the time,” Bowman said. “I think [Biedermann] would enjoy it more, too. It’s a lose-lose [situation], because for the people who do these fantastic times, they always have to quantify it.”
Bowman said Phelps has not been fixated on the suit issue, other than seriously considering wearing only briefs at the world championships.
“I don’t think [Phelps] cares,” Bowman said. “While I think he has a great appreciation of the history of the sport and is super competitive and wants to win, he never really got caught up in this suit thing. I did.”
Even so, Bowman said, he and Phelps pondered Phelps’s showing up to the world championships wearing briefs. They eventually nixed the idea for two reasons: They didn’t want to hurt the U.S. relay teams’ performances (Phelps won golds on three relay teams). And they also feared Phelps might not be competitive enough to even reach the finals of some events.
“It would have been a fantastic statement, but he has a responsibility to the relays and he felt a responsibility to the team,” Bowman said. “If you just wore a brief it would be so absurd … We felt like that would also be like a publicity stunt.”
Bowman said Phelps will work out with the rest of the NBAC team four days per week until the last week of August, when five-day-a-week sessions will begin. With the departure of coach Paul Yetter to Auburn University, Bowman said, he has begun coaching all of the club’s top young stars with the assistance of NBAC coach Scott Armstrong.
He also said he hired a full-time athletic trainer, Keenan Robinson from the University of Michigan, to work with his top athletes.
Bowman, who last year coached only Phelps and a handful of post-graduate and top stars, said he might add a couple of post-graduate swimmers to the group in the coming weeks but will be very selective about those he brings aboard.
Nick Thoman trained with the group for several months earlier this year, then joined SwimMAC in Charlotte. Haley McGregory left after a few months, too, saying she missed the warm weather in Texas. Even longtime NBAC swimmer Katie Hoff said this week she planned to leave NBAC to join a new training team in Fullerton, Calif.
“After my experience in the first year, we’re going to be selective about how who we do take,” Bowman said. “For this to really work, they have to mesh with the psyche of the program, fit into the culture of our team.”
Tags: Michael Phelps