STOCKHOLM, Nov. 10 — Wearing a short suit and not in top shape in his first major meet since this summer’s world championships, Michael Phelps knew it would be difficult to win races at the third leg of the FINA/Arena Swimming World Cup here.
But he surely didn’t expect to get left out of the night’s finals.
Phelps, however, finished 16th overall (47.77) in the 100-meter freestyle and earned a disqualification in the 100 backstroke in the preliminaries at the Eriksdalsbadet swim center Tuesday morning, failing to advance to the finals in his first events with stacked fields. In the 100 individual medley, his last event of the morning, he claimed seventh place overall in 53.13 to squeeze into the final (top eight) of that event.
“Michael has had so many meets where he was unbelievably good in everything he swam; it was like magic,” said his longtime coach Bob Bowman. “He needs to have a meet where everything goes wrong and deal with it.”
This two-day meet in short-course meters (a 25-meter pool) has certainly provided that opportunity thus far; Phelps has two more events remaining Wednesday. On Thursday, he travels to Berlin for another World Cup this weekend.
Phelps has never swum the 100 free or 100 back in an Olympic Games; neither is considered a true specialty for him. In the former, he struggled with changes to his stroke this year, and he’s never been among the super-elite in the world in the latter. Even without the disqualification for swimming underwater more than 15 meters in the 100 back, Phelps’s time (52.47) wouldn’t have been close to the top eight.
Though Phelps has rarely swum short-course events and he didn’t know what to expect against the high-quality fields here — especially wearing a waist-to-knee, textile suit rather than a long, technical version — failing to make the night’s finals still proved shocking for the greatest swimmer in the sport’s history. With his two first swims, Phelps matched the number of times since 2002 he has not advanced out of morning preliminaries. The only other times came at the ’07 U.S. national championships, when he finished 11th in the 200 breaststroke — definitely not a specialty — and when he was 18th in the 400 freestyle, another non-specialty, at the 2005 world championships in Montreal.
On a better note for the United States, 14-year-old Melissa Franklin of Aurora, Colo., finished second in the 200 individual medley heats in 2 minutes, 9.04 seconds, just behind Spain’s Mireia Belmonte (2:08.91), and fourth in 200 backstroke in 2:06.30, claiming two spots in evening finals. Towson’s Liz Pelton, who wore an old FS-Pro, finished eighth in the 200 back in 2:12.47, also earning a spot in the final.
Of the 46 members of the USA Swimming’s youth national team sent here to gain experience and learn from Phelps, the team’s mentor, only two advanced to evening finals. Besides Franklin, Madison White also advanced in the 200 back. As a side note, those were the only two U.S. youth team swimmers to don Jaked suits rather than Speedo’s LZR, considered less of a high-tech suit than the Italian-made Jaked. Pelton, 15, is a member of the senior national team.
Franklin, a high school freshman and youngest member of the youth team, said she was shaking with nervousness before her first event, the 200 free, but calmed down after that.
“My goal for the entire four days [including two days of competition in Berlin this weekend] was to make it back for one final,” Franklin said. “I thought it would have been such an honor. To make it in two, I’m really excited.”
In the 100 free heats Tuesday morning, Sweden’s Stefan Nystrand finished first overall in 45.93 seconds, followed by Canadian Brent Hayden, who touched the wall in 46.30, and South African Lyndon Ferns, who came home in 46.32. They were followed by Russian Evgeny Lagunov (46.48); Australia Matthew Abood (46.50) and Russian Sergey Fesikov (46.51).
Phelps was in good company with his relatively slow time. Frenchman Amaury Leveaux, the world-record holder in the event, finished 38th overall in 49.17. And France’s Fabien Gilot, who had the second-fastest qualifying time, finished 56th in 50.08. Interestingly, they also wore waist-to-knee suits like Phelps — and none of the few who donned short suits here advanced to finals except Phelps.
Phelps decided to wear a short suit because, he said, the high-tech suits have damaged the sport and he wanted to get accustomed to the suit he would be forced to wear once the long, non-textile suits are banned in January. His problems, however, clearly went beyond his choice of swimwear.
“It’s very tough to compete in those [non-technical, short] suits,” Bowman said. “But it’s not an excuse. [Michael's] not in good shape. If he was in good shape, he would have finaled in both events. But he’s not that far away.”
All of the top eight wore long, technical suits. Phelps declined to speak to reporters Tuesday morning, telling USA Swimming officials he would address the press after his evening final.
In the men’s 100 back, American Peter Marshall, who has been the leading male during the World Cup season thus far, topped the field with a 50.07, followed by South Africa’s George Du-Rand (50.10), Australian Robert Hurley, who wore only legs (50.19), and Austria’s Markus Rogan (50.32). Phelps swam too far underwater on the second wall, but it still didn’t help. Had he not been disqualified, he would have posted the 15th-best time.
In his last event of the morning, Phelps was competitive but still relatively slow, finishing fourth in the fourth of five heats. South Africans Darian Townsend (52.48) and Gerhard Zandberg (52.54) posted the top marks, followed by Russian Sergey Fesikov (52.56).
“The competition is so high,” Bowman said. “There are a lot of professional swimmers who have a real opportunity to maybe break a record and get a bonus [of $10,000], and they’re fully prepared for this, and suited up.”
Phelps took several weeks off to recover from a hairline fracture in his foot sustained in a minor car accident about two weeks after the world championships in Rome, where he won five gold medals. He returned to heavy training about a month ago.
“I’m not too pleased with it, but I’m not surprised by it,” Bowman said.
In other events, China’s Zhao Jing set a world record in the women’s 50 backstroke (26.08), earning the $10,000 bonus offered for world marks. In the men’s 50 breaststroke, South African world record holder Cameron Van Den Burgh topped the preliminary field with a 25.86, followed by South African Roland Schoeman, who finished in 25.99.
In another stunner in the women’s 100 breast, American Jessica Hardy failed to advance in the event just days after setting a new world record in the 50 breast. She finished ninth in 1:07.01, as Australian Leisel Jones posted the morning’s best time of 1:04.94.
Hardy swam later in the 50 free and won the third seed with her finish in 24.17. Sweden’s Therese Alshammar topped the field in 23.85, edging Great Britain’s Francesca Halsall (24.01). In the women’s 100 fly, Felicity Galvez topped the field with a 56.38.
Tags: Michael Phelps