STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Nov. 9 — Michael Phelps is accustomed to be tailed by scores of photographers, so he waded easily through the sea of cameras that assembled at the Eriksdalsbadet swim center Monday. But the nearly four dozen U.S. teenagers shadowing his every move? From the airport to the hotel to the bus to the pool for practice?
That was something new.
The kids from USA Swimming’s youth national team were looking to Phelps for mentorship as he prepared for his first major competition since he won five gold medals at this summer’s world championships in Rome.
Phelps, quite simply, has a lot going on this week.
There’s the well-publicized and highly anticipated statement he plans to make by wearing a waist-to-knee “jammer” suit in five events at the FINA World Cup meet that kicks off Tuesday — even though the ban on full-length, technical suits does not take effect until January, and his competitors will be wearing them, and he could get positively dominated in a couple events.
“There are going to be a lot of events over the next two meets that are going to be really challenging to win,” Phelps said during a press conference Monday afternoon.
He went on to make a different statement made Monday night.
To the kids.
It was a speech, actually.
USA Swimming National Team Head Coach and General Manager Mark Schubert and National Youth Head Coach Jack Roach asked Phelps to give a talk to the 46 national youth team members on the eve of what will surely be the biggest competition of most of their young lives — and possibly one of the more interesting of his.
Phelps, who already had met the group of youngsters at the Chicago airport and flown over with them — a trek that included an eight-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany — seemed immediately enthusiastic. “What should I talk about?” he said, then answered his own question with what he would talk about.
“He was very into it,” Schubert said.
“It’s my 10th year on the national team,” Phelps said. “I was thinking about what I’d say to the kids, and I was actually thinking about the first time I was at senior nationals in Minneapolis, I remember seeing people like Tom Dolan and Tom Malchow and Lenny Krazylberg, and I was more focused on them than doing what I was doing.
“Hopefully, I will get them to understand they’re on the same level; they can swim with these guys if they want to.”
He might be trying to convince himself of the very same thing. Phelps said he is abandoning the high-tech suits early, because he believes they have damaged the sport and is eager to switch to the swimwear he will wear for the rest of his career.
But with $10,000 available for world records set here, don’t expect any of Phelps’s rivals to do the same in what is unfamiliar territory for the 14-time Olympic gold medal winner. Phelps hasn’t swum an event in short-course meters (a 25-meter instead of 50-meter pool) since 2006, and hasn’t competed in a European world cup event in eight years.
He won’t face Germany’s Paul Biedermann, who crushed Phelps in the 200 freestyle in Rome, over the next two days because Biedermann reportedly has a thigh injury, but the pair could face off this weekend in Berlin.
The competition here is fierce even without Biedermann. In the 100 free, Phelps will take on Amaury Leveaux, Fabien Gilot, Stefan Nystrand and Brent Hayden.
And the 100 backstroke field includes Aschwin Wildeboer, Stanislav Donets, Peter Marshall and Markus Rogan.
In any case, Schubert and Roach aren’t advising the youth team members to follow Phelps down to his choice of competition wear. The coaching staff would prefer if the kids replicate the other aspects of Phelps’s pre-race preparation. All have been provided with last year’s full-body Speedo LZRs, and are permitted to wear the suit of their choice.
“We would very much like to make every effort to get [youth team members] a second swim” in the evening’s finals, Schubert said. “It’s much different for them than Michael’s situation. Where he might be somewhat at a disadvantage, I don’t think anyone doubts he will get a second swim.”
But getting to the podium in every event might be tough for Phelps, too. He is competing in the 100 free, 100 backstroke, 100 individual medley, 100 fly and 200 medley.
“If I do a best time and get destroyed it’s just going to motivate me,” Phelps said. “A lot of events for the next two meets are going to be really challenging to win. I’m definitely probably not the favorite in many of them.”
The U.S. youth team members, meantime, have little hope of qualifying for the evening’s finals. The team includes North Baltimore Aquatic Club’s Andrew Cosgarea, QDD’s Steven Hill and SPY Swimming’s Emily Lloyd. NBAC’s Elizabeth Pelton, Felicia Lee and Todd Patrick are also here.
“We get to have a national-team-like experience before we’re on the national team,” Cosgarea said. “This is a high-level meet with [Phelps] being here, it doesn’t make us feel like a bunch of kids.”
Tags: Michael Phelps