Thu, Jul 08, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Coughlin, Phelps prepare to smash Olympic records


Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin are expected to emerge as major swimming stars in the Athens Olympics. They're taking different approaches to getting there.

Phelps will swim six individual events at the US Olympic trials beginning Wednesday in a temporary pool built on a parking lot along the Long Beach shoreline. His goal is to break Mark Spitz's record 32-year-old record of seven gold medals in a single Olympics.

"I'm very in awe of the confidence he has in himself," Coughlin said of Phelps. "I think he's going to do very well with all this pressure."

Coughlin's approach is less hectic. She'll focus on making her first Olympic team in the 100m freestyle, 100m backstroke and, just for fun, the 50m free.

The top two finishers in each event are guaranteed trips to Athens.

Coughlin, who dominated college swimming when she starred at California, is limited by the schedule. She didn't want to be swimming a semifinal heat of one event just 12 minutes before a final in another, so she is skipping the 200m back and the 100m butterfly.

``The Olympic trials are filled with stress and anxiety,'' said Coughlin, who was coming off an injury and failed to make the team in 2000.

At the trials, Phelps will attempt to make the team in the 200m and 400m individual medley, which is comprised of all four strokes (freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke). He's also scheduled to swim the 100m and 200m fly, the 200m free and the 200m backstroke.

In Athens, he hopes to swim two or three relays, which could add to his potential medal haul.

Phelps will be in the pool for seven of the meet's eight days, including five when he's got to take part in both the morning and evening sessions.

"He's got a difficult task ahead of him," said Ian Crocker, who upset Phelps while setting a world record in the 100m fly at last year's world championships. "There's a lot of people standing in his way."

But the 19-year-old from Baltimore isn't daunted by the pressure or the constant scrutiny.

"I'm extremely confident," Phelps said Tuesday. "The biggest thing is staying relaxed."

Spitz, who has never met Phelps, is pulling for the teenager to break the record.

"I have a feeling of empathy for him," Spitz said. "I hope he does it. It won't take away from anything I've done."

Phelps was the youngest member of the Olympic swim team in 2000. He didn't earn any medals in Sydney.

Phelps and Coughlin are swimming's newest rising stars. They'll be joined at the trials by several veterans trying to make yet another Olympic team. Among them:

-- Jenny Thompson, 31, who already owns a record 10 Olympic medals, but is still seeking her first individual gold.

-- Brooke Bennett, the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 800m freestyle, who has kept a low profile while rehabilitating from operations on both shoulders in 2001.

-- Jeff Rouse, the 1992 Olympic champion in the 100m backstroke, is making a comeback at 34 after seven years out of the pool.

-- Gary Hall Jr., the Olympic 50m free champion, will try to join his father as a three-time Olympian, which hasn't been done before.

-- Amanda Beard, the darling of the Atlanta Games as a 14-year-old who won a gold and two silver medals, will try to make her third Olympic team.

The trials are being held for the first time in a portable pool.

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