Olympics: Swim Trials
Olympic U.S. Swim Team Trials
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 13, 2004; 12:00 PM
The U.S. Olympic swim trials held in Long Beach includes seventeen races over a span of just seven days. Several athletes have shown their force to qualify for next month's game in Athens including locals such as Maryland swimmer Michael Phelps and Pennsylvania's Brendan Hansen, who broke the world record in the men's 200-meter breaststroke.
Post staff writer Barry Svrluga was online Tuesday, July 13, at Noon ET to discuss the latest results from the Olympic swim trials at Long Beach and the outlook for the Olympic U.S. Swim team.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Barry Svrluga: Good morning ... er, afternoon, I guess, on the East Coast. Greetings from poolside. We're just beginning Day 7 at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, getting ready to wind down. So fire away.
Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.:
Are there any good rivalries among the American swimmers, or is Michael Phelps just too far ahead of everyone else?
Barry Svrluga: Good question. The build-up for these trials has largely centered around Phelps and his pursuit of six, seven, maybe eight gold medals in Athens. It's deserved, for he is incredible, and that attention has brought the spotlight to his sport, if only temporarily.
What folks need to understand heading to Athens -- and what Aaron Peirsol pointed out last night -- is that Phelps isn't invincible across the board. Peirsol set a new world record in the 200 backstroke, handily beating Phelps. Phelps's coach, Bob Bowman, said there are plenty of things Phelps can correct technically, but right now, Peirsol is better in that event. Tonight, we'll see how Phelps does against Ian Crocker in the 100 butterfly. That rivalry's so good that Phelps has a picture of Crocker in his room.
And watch the freestyle sprint rivalry between Gary Hall and Jason Lezak. The two will meet again in the 50-meter free tonight, and they're trash-talking is good enough for an NBA game.
Barry, the swim trials seem like a perfect opportunity to test this: is it true that your last name sounds exactly the same when spoken underwater?
Barry Svrluga: This is the best question, bar none, I have ever received in a chat. Let me dunk my head in the pool and find out, and I'll get back to you.
Why do you think it is that competitive swimming is such a popular part of the olympics, yet is otherwise ignored by the world of sports?
Barry Svrluga: The Olympics are, in some ways, more about storylines and acheivement than athletics. So every four years, we get to hear about how Jenny Thompson is balancing med school, the death of her mother, and swimming. It makes for great drama, and the stories can be touching and heart-warming.
That said, swimming is a much better sport live than it is on television. You can't see facial expressions on TV. All you see is splashing. Though these are incredible athletes, it simply doesn't translate well to a broad audience.
In your opinion, should Phelps be included on the 4 x 100 freestyle relay even though he didn't swim the 100 free at the trials?
Barry Svrluga: This could be the topic of much debate as we head to Athens. The deal is this: The top four finishers in the 100-meter freestyle at these trials qualify for the 4 x 100 relay team. Phelps didn't swim the event here -- he had plenty on his plate. So it seems simple.
Except there's a catch. U.S. men's coach Eddie Reese has the right to place anybody on the team in any relay. Two swimmers on the relay team -- Gary Hall Jr. and Jason Lezak, who don't agree on much -- said they thought the guys who earned the spots should swim on the team. But Reese made it clear yesterday that his job is to win the relay, no matter what. That indicates that he'll go with Phelps. Even Neil Walker, the man most likely to lose his spot on the relay should Phelps swim in the final, said, "It's not about being fair. It's about being fast."
The U.S.'s best chance at winning gold is probably with Phelps. So he should swim on the team.
It seems to me thata good part of a champion's strength has to be mental, to be able to move on after a bad race, and Michael Phelps seems to be that tough. Is he really? And, as the parent of three swimmers, I find it fascinating that these kids, amazing people and athletes that they are, are really just at a swim meet, like we were last night. Also, who are the people in the chairs right behind the starting blocks?
Barry Svrluga: The people in the chairs are officials, making sure each swimmer starts and turns legally.
You're exactly right about the mental part. It was fascinating to watch Phelps deal with that last night. He lost for the first time at the meet -- in the 200 backstroke to Peirsol, who's amazing. Coming down from the stands, Bob Bowman, Phelps's coach, said he was terribly concerned that Phelps was spent, and that he wouldn't have anything left for the 200 individual medley.
Phelps, though, was thinking otherwise. He said that as he watched Peirsol celebrate in the adjacent lane, he got more fired-up for the 200 IM. He went on to win it easily. Some of these athletes are separated by such small margins physically that mental edges mean a great deal.
The Post ran a photo of 7-time Olympic gold medalist Mark Spitz raising Michael Phelps' arm in victory.
Is Mark Spitz involved in publicizing Phelps' attempt to match Spitz's record of 7 gold medals?
Barry Svrluga: Until recently, Spitz has been quite mum about Phelps's attempt at his record. He doesn't seem to seek publicity, and he's not involved in promoting Phelps's attempt.
In a way, that made the moment the other night more poignant. Spitz and Phelps had never met, and the arm-raising seemed to be a genuine passing-of-the-torch moment, a way for Spitz to officially acknowledge what Phelps was attempting, and let people know that he supports Phelps.
How much of the storylines do you, the media, create and exaggerate in order to make for better copy? In other words, how much antipathy between these athletes is there--really?
Just trying to light a bit of a fire...
Barry Svrluga: Are you trying to light a fire between the media and the readers?
Just kidding. I think there's frequently the perception, among athletes, that the media is creating conflict to make better stories. But really, all we're doing is asking questions that seek honest answers. Yes, people might not give those honest answers if they weren't asked, but that's our job.
As for the Hall-Lezak flap -- which both are downplaying now -- Hall challenged Lezak on his web site. That's not the media making it up.
How has Natalie Coughlan (sp?) been doing? I read a very intersting article about her in the New Yorker recently, but have not seen anything about her in the papers.
Barry Svrluga: Check out the Post. We ran a lengthy story on Coughlin on July 4.
Coughlin has had a fine trials. She won the 100-meter backstroke, and last night took second in the 100 freestyle. As versatile and talented as she is, those are her only two events at the trials. She and her coach decided to go with kind of an anti-Phelps plan -- strip it down, and make sure you're in tip-top condition in a small number events, rather than spreading yourself too thin.
She'll be a threat for gold in both those events in Athens, and she should swim on at least two relays there.
Is spitting in another swimmer's lane really a big offense, or is that rivalry between the two swimmers that arose over such an incident just hype?
Barry Svrluga: Hard to tell. But Gary Hall Jr. seems to be smart enough to know that any publicity for swimming is good publicity. So why not spar with your rivals a bit?
Ann Arbor, Mich.:
I'm curious as to why so many people still seem to care about Olympic events such as swimming or track and field, or any sport with such a heavy reliance on strength and endurance. To be able to disguise the use of performance enhancing drugs is now as important as training. Anyone who thinks that the IOC has cleaned up their sports has only to look at the state of the U.S. track and field team. All modern day records are suspect, in just about every sport. Yet the average fan doesn't seem to care. Why is that?
Barry Svrluga: This is a question that's central to sports now and for the next generation, and there's no clear-cut answer. Is it because the American public wants to see the body be pushed to its limits, regardless of the means used to push it? Is it because we live in a society that endorses cosmetic surgery to acheive the standard of beauty, and don't seem to mind?
The best doping story I've heard at the swimming trials is that Michael Phelps, so scared of using anything that could be interpreted as a supplement, drinks Carnation Instant Breakfast between races to replenish, because it's FDA-approved.
Phelps vs Thorpe in 200m freestyle. Who wins?
Barry Svrluga: This could be one of the most fascinating questions at the Olympics. There's no guarantee that Phelps will keep the 200 free on his program in Athens, though he said yesterday that -- with just one race left -- he feels better than he thought he would after all these events. Anyone who wants more attention for swimming wants this race to happen, and they should be encouraged by Phelps's words this week: "I love to swim against the best."
College Park, Md.:
I'm a pretty good swimmer myself. What do you think the chances are of me and Phelps, one-on-one? I know I can take him, I just now it. Gimme a shot. Who do I hafta call?
Barry Svrluga: I'll forward you some numbers. It could be a pay-per-view event. Huge, I tell ya. Huge. Vegas will see tons of action on this one -- and it'll all be on Phelps.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this chat prove that swimming is becoming more popular in the main-stream press?
Barry Svrluga: As long as it's not just my mom and dad asking all the questions, then I suppose it does.
Is Michael Phelps swimming again tonight? What time?
Barry Svrluga: Phelps swims in the 100-meter butterfly, his last event at the trials, tonight at around 8:10 p.m. Eastern, 5:10 out here on the West Coast. He's facing one of his two main adversaries, Ian Crocker of Portland, Maine, who last year set the world record in this event and beat Phelps head-to-head. Should be quite a race.
Spitting in another's lane is the ultimate dissing in swimming. Amy van Dyken was notorious for it.
Barry Svrluga: I'll defer to those who have actually spat, or been spat at, on this one.
There seem to have been some upsets thus far at the trials. Several young Olympians from the Australia games lost. Mary Descenza, reigning NCAA 200 fly champ, failed to make the team at all. I'm sure there are more. What do you view as the biggest upsets? Who are the suprises we should be watching for in Athens?
Barry Svrluga: Kara Lynn Joyce, 18, won the 100 freestyle last night over Coughlin, and that was quite an upset. And watch Katie Hoff, the 15-year-old from Abingdon, Md. She won the 400 and 200 IM here, and has shaved amazing amounts of time off her personal bests in both events over the last year. And 16-year-old Dana Vollmer from Texas won the 200 freestyle.
Some other familiar names won't be going to the Games. Misty Hyman couldn't overcome shoulder surgery. Josh Davis, a stalwart relay man, also failed to qualify. There's definitely something of a changing of the guard here.
Why is no one talking about Bruce qualifying from lane 1 in the 200 breast.
How about some more props for Joyce pulling the upset in the 100 free.
Barry Svrluga: Beat you to it on the props for Joyce.
And yes, that was amazing. Caroline Bruce upset more experienced swimmers -- Stacianna Stitts, Megan Quann, Tara Kirk, Kristy Kowal -- in finishing second behind Beard last night in the 200 breaststroke, thus qualifying for the team. In a way, that could be considered the biggest upset at these trials.
Just to correct your earlier answer about Natalie Coughlin - she is also swimming the 50 Freestyle, and finished with the 4th best time in today's prelims.
Barry Svrluga: Yes, you are correct. Teri McKeever, Coughlin's coach, said there are "no expectations whatsoever" on Coughlin's 50, an event for which she has not really trained. The idea was that, since she was going to be here anyway and would be done with the main part of her program, she might as well swim again.
Fastest in this mornings 50-meter prelims? Jenny Thompson.
What now for Ed Moses from Burke? Is he through with swimming?
Barry Svrluga: Moses's answer to that question the other day -- after he failed to make the team -- was interesting. He said he would have to go home and evaluate why he performed poorly here, finishing sixth in the 100 breaststroke and fifth in the 200 breaststroke. He is asthmatic, and said he was having trouble breathing this week, something he suspected was caused by a chemical in the pool. But he couldn't be sure, and he sounded very much like a man considering retirement.
Can you tell us the life cycle of an Olympic swimmer -- how they train and how much and where? How are they picked as qualifiers -- are they groomed from a very young age?
Barry Svrluga: Ask a swimming parent if they're groomed from a very young age and you'll get a resounding, "Yes!" Many of the men and women here were on swim teams when they were 6 or 7. To qualify for the trials, they must swim a certain time in their event. And their life cycles seem to vary. Jenny Thompson will be making her fourth trip to the Olympics at age 31, but other younger swimmers have succumbed to shoulder injuries or burnout.
Is Lenny Krayzelburg going to be competing in the upcoming Olympics?
Barry Svrluga: Krayzelburg is one of those guys who seemed to be doomed by his shoulder injuries. He won three gold medals at the 2000 Games in Sydney, but two surgeries wiped out much of the past few years for him. So when he qualified by placing second in the 100 backstroke on the second day of the trials, there were a lot of happy competitors, glad to see Krayzelburg had made it all the way back.
Amanda Beard or Natalie Coughlin - who will have more of our attention in Athens?
Barry Svrluga: Great question, and hard to call. It's strange. Beard is only 22, but she seems to be a grizzled vet, having won four medals at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. She seems to have discovered a tenacity that will be useful in Athens, and spoke last night about her desire to make a fourth Olympics in '08. She's ready.
Coughlin is newer on the international scene. Even though she's just a year younger than Beard, this is her first Olympics. She has the ability to steal the show in Athens, but how she handles the mental aspect of the Olympic experience will be key. She said last night that she swam a technically poor race in the 100 freestyle (placing second to Joyce) because she was "too relaxed." Do that in Athens, and you lose gold.
Silver Spring, Md.:
I read an article by Janet Evans today saying that it was unfair for Michael Phelps to be selected to the 4X100 relay because he did not swim in the event at the olympic trials. However Phelps posted a time a couple of months back that would put have put him second in yeterdays preliminaries. Isn't the point of the trials to put the best team together for the olympics? Wouldn't the best team have phelps on it?
Barry Svrluga: Already answered below. U.S. men's coach Eddie Reese seems to be thinking like you, Silver Spring.
I was out at Trials for 5 days and was impressed with the pool. One thing that I don't understand about big meets such as Trials, Worlds, Olympics, etc. is why they have the high touchpads on the walls. It seems like it just creates more waves.
The sides have the nice overflow gutters, but the water just bounces back when they come into the walls on the ends. Do you know why this is?
Barry Svrluga: I will file this in the "way-too-technical-for-me" category, although I have admired the gutters. They're beautiful.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Has there been any progress with the venue controversy in Athens? A few months ago, the idea of an outdoor pool at that time of year in the Mediterranean was supposed to be an affront to U.S. Swimming. Any movement on this? Will the water be over 80 degrees come race time?
Barry Svrluga: The technical big-wigs at USA Swimming said that, despite their concerns several months ago, the Greek officials have done an excellent job of maintaining the pool temperature even when the air temp reaches 100 and above. But Gary Hall Jr. said yesterday that the heat here was affecting him, and it hasn't been much above 80. So the conditions in Athens will be a factor.
The swimmers here, save for Ed Moses, have generally raved about the pool at trials.
I don't mean to take anything away from our swimmers with this question. However, the number of record breaking performances leave me wondering about the pool and if maybe it is actually a little short of 50m? Are competition pools measured carefully before/after an event? What about after a number of record breaking events?
Barry Svrluga: I will purchase a tape measure this afternoon, climb onto the grassy knoll beside the pool, wait till everyone leaves, and get back to you.
Chapel Hill, N.C.:
I'd like to put a plug in for a swimmer who just finished competing at the Trials--not a marquee name, but she has been a great role model for younger swimmers. Whitney Smith, from Richmond, attended UNC on a swim scholarship, and was my daughter's club coach. She is a positive, energetic person who really knows how to work with kids. I went to one of her UNC meets, and she looked like she was truly having just a great time cheering her teammates on. It was so nice to be able to show my daughter how Whitney participated in sports while making good grades. I'm sure there's lots of other student-athletes that don't have the name recognition, but contribute to their sport and set the good example---it's refreshing in this age of bad stories about star athletes.
Barry Svrluga: Plug duly noted.
Tell us about Amanda Beard's comeback! Didn't she miss the Olympics four years ago?
Barry Svrluga: No, she won a bronze medal in the 200 breaststroke. But after setting the world record in that event last night, she seems to be primed for more in Athens.
Do you know anything about swimming other than the fastest wins? For example, could you compare the butterfly strokes of Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps? Did you know that when Mark Spitz made an ill-advised comeback attempt in 1992 his technique was analyzed by some space-age gadgetry at US Olympic headquarters and his stroke was the most efficient they had ever measured?
Barry Svrluga: Indeed, I cannot compare the butterfly strokes of Spitz and Phelps. But I can talk to those who can and report what they say. That's our job.
Barry Svrluga: Well, aquaheads, I appreciate your time. Thanks for joining in. Keep an eye on that 50-meter freestyle between Hall and Lezak tonight. And just an inkling: I think Crocker's going to beat Phelps in the 100 back tonight.
I'm going out to the pool. Now, if I could just get the cabana boy to bring me a sandwich ...
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