Fri, Jul 16, 2004 - Page 22 News List

Phelps drops 200m backstroke from Olympic itinerary

AP , LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA

Supermodel Cindy Crawford, left, and Michael Phelps during a news conference in Long Beach, California, Wednesday. Phelps joined Crawford as a celebrity endorser of Omega watches. The US team member will compete in five individual events in Athens.

PHOTO: AP

Michael Phelps will drop the 200m backstroke and swim five individual events at the Athens Olympics, but he should still have a chance to at least equal Mark Spitz's record of seven golds.

"We decided to save the backstroke for another opportunity sometime down the road," he said Wednesday. "We wanted to do the best program we felt the most confident with."

Phelps ended second to world-record holder Aaron Peirsol in the 200m back at the US Olympic trials. Peirsol hasn't lost in the 200m back since his silver-medal performance at the Sydney Games four years ago.

Phelps became the first US swimmer to qualify for six individual events at the trials, but US men's coach Eddie Reese said he wouldn't object to Phelps giving up one.

"A move that is the best for him will benefit all of us," he said.

The 19-year-old Phelps will swim the 100m and 200m butterflys, the 200m and 400m individual medleys and the 200m freestyle. He also is likely to be on at least two -- and maybe all three -- relays.

``We don't want to spread him so thin that he compromises his chances,'' Phelps' coach Bob Bowman said.

Phelps announced his Olympic schedule at a promotional appearance with supermodel Cindy Crawford, but he already had informed Reese that the 200m back was out.

"He said it bothered his fly," Reese said.

Last Sunday and Monday, Phelps had four races each day at the trials -- including the preliminaries, semifinals and final of the 200m back, along with the prelims and semis of the 100m fly.

He came back Tuesday evening for the 100m fly final, but was beaten by Ian Crocker's world-record swim.

Phelps held the world record in the 100m fly until getting upset by Crocker at last summer's world championships in Barcelona. His rival took the mark even lower at the trials.

The trials' schedule mimics the order of races at the Athens Games next month.

"To race Crocker, you're going to have to be in peak condition," Bowman said.

Bryce Hunt was expected to take Phelps' place in the 200 back, after finishing third behind Peirsol and Phelps at the trials. The 22-year-old from Newburgh, Indiana, would be swimming in his first Olympics.

"If that occurs, we'll do well," Reese said. "Bryce is a plus wherever he is."

Phelps will be the overwhelming Olympic favorite in the 200m and 400m individual medleys and 200m fly; he holds the world record in all three events.

Having dropped the 200m back, his chances of gold in the other two individual events are shakier. He must beat Crocker in the 100m fly, and the 200 free features world record holder Ian Thorpe of Australia and defending Olympic champion Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands.

"One thing I always wanted to do is race Thorpe in a freestyle event," Phelps said. "This is probably the best opportunity for me to swim in probably the fastest 200m free in history. There are a lot of guys who could win the gold."

Phelps is assured of anchoring the 800m free relay, but that's no guarantee of gold -- Thorpe and the Aussies won that event at Sydney.

Reese hasn't decided on his lineup for the other two relays, but Phelps is expected to swim at least the prelims of the 400m medley relay. The US has never lost that event at the Olympics, and everyone who swims it earns a medal.

The 400m free relay is a bit dicier. Phelps didn't swim the 100m free at the trials, which usually determines who is on the relay, but he owns one of the fastest American times in the world this year. Reese said Phelps also would be considered for the relay.

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