STOCKHOLM, Nov. 11 — Michael Phelps did it again. Wednesday morning’s failure was arguably more spectacular than Tuesday’s double debacle, and it offered increasingly compelling evidence that the sport’s controversial technical suits — at least for the moment — do make the swimmer.
A day after failing to climb out of the morning preliminaries in two non-specialty events, Phelps wore a textile, waist-to-knee ”jammer” again and couldn’t get out of the first round in an event in which he is considered the world’s most skilled swimmer and holds the world record in 50-meter pools.
Phelps finished 11th overall in the 100-meter butterfly morning heats in 51.06 seconds, unable to win a spot in the final of a third event at this two-day FINA/Arena World Cup at the Eriksdalsbadet swim center, a short-course (25-meter pool) event.
Brazil’s Kaio Almeido topped the heats in 50.34 seconds, followed by Russian Evgeny Korotyshkin (50.50). Phelps came back later in the morning and, against a considerably less competitive field, advanced in the 200 individual medley by tying for the second-fastest qualifying time of 1 minute, 56.09 seconds. Phelps held the fastest qualifying time by nearly three seconds in that event.
“Michael is Michael,” French world-record holder Amaury Leveaux said. “If he takes a full swimsuit, I think he is still the best.”
Leveaux and a few other competitors — largely from the United States and France, where the suits already have been banned — also wore short, textile suits and also struggled mightily for the second straight day.
In the 200 freestyle, Leveaux, fellow Frenchmen Fabien Gilot and Gregory Mallet wore jammers and finished six, seven and six seconds above their qualifying times in 46th, 51st and 54th places. Wearing briefs in the 50 backstroke, Frenchman Pierre Roger finished two seconds above his qualifying time, and 37th overall.
“In short-course, the start, the turns, the kicks, in the water it goes really fast,” Roger said. “The suits change everything. It’s not the same sport … It’s not the same swimming, it’s not the same effort. Everything is so different.”
Phelps advanced in only two of five events at this World Cup, claiming the bronze medal in the 100 individual medley Tuesday. This meet will go down as the worst performance of his professional career regardless of how he performs Wednesday night. Yet he refused to blame the short suit, which he decided to wear even though the long, technical suits won’t be banned until Jan. 1.
The suits have been largely credited for the more than 200 world records set in the last two years; many say they turn average swimmers into faster swimmers because they help with flotation and compress the muscles.
Phelps, however, said he was not in top shape and continued to have trouble with the extra walls in the shorter, 25-meter pools.
“In the 100 fly, I definitely should have been more aggressive than that,” Phelps said. “I definitely didn’t hit a couple of turns well. In short-course meters, it’s different than yards. It adds a stroke, stroke-and-a-half … You really have to make sure you’re judging the walls.”
After winning five gold medals and one silver at the late summer world championships in Rome, Phelps broke his foot in a fender-bender in Baltimore and was forced to take about a month off from training. Though he has been back in the pool for over a month, he says he is still not in peak shape.
Of course, he said that during the world championships, too — and during that meet, he set the world record in the 100 butterfly.
“If I’m in better shape, it’s a different story,” Phelps said. “When you’re training consistently … it’s going to show when you swim and race … If I don’t want this stuff to happen, the training has to be there.”
Phelps’s coach Bob Bowman attributed his star pupil’s performance to Phelps’s level of fitness — and the suits. With better conditioning – or a Speedo LZR – Phelps would have made the finals, Bowman speculated.
“It’s not just one thing,” Bowman said. “One of the positive things that will come out of this meet is it will give you another picture of what the suits really do … This shows you the true textile suit, low profile, the difference between that and [the long, technical suits]. It’s substantial.”
In other news, Jessica Hardy learned an exasperating lesson Tuesday: She took it too easy in the heats of the 100-meter breast in her Speedo LZR, and failed to advance to the night’s final. She finished one slot out of the top eight.
Disappointed, she pulled out a faster suit, her Jaked01, for the Wednesday morning heats and went out hard in the 50 breast to ensure that she would make it to the night’s final.
She did more than that: She set the world record, her second in a week and third this month, in the event, finishing in 28.96.
The finish earned her a $10,000 prize — and a spot in the night’s final.
“This morning I went after it, because of what happened yesterday in the 100 breast,” Hardy said. “I learned a hard lesson. This weekend [at the World Cup in Berlin], I’ll give the 100 a run.”
Entering this event, Hardy was the top performer among women on the World Cup circuit this fall. Since her return from a drug suspension she earned for taking a tainted dietary supplement, Hardy has set five world records, two in long-course (50-meter pools).
She said she would wear a Jaked again Wednesday night, only a newer one. The one she wore in the heats had been used so much it had a two-inch hole in the lower back.
“I’ve been training my butt off because of the stuff I’ve been through in my life,” Hardy said. “I’ve really enjoyed working hard and, I guess, reaping the benefits.”
Tags: Michael Phelps