2012 Summer Olympic Games Preview - Swimming
Philadelphia, PA – It's worth remembering that Michael Phelps didn't do it alone.
Although his eight gold medals in Beijing was a singular record -- the Holy Grail of Olympic marks, really -- Phelps and his teammates leaned on each other to win three of them.
That was never truer than in the 400-meter freestyle relay, which Jason Lezak single-handedly saved with the most remarkable anchor swim in recent memory to beat the favored French.
"I literally wanted to do something that no one's ever done before in this sport," Phelps said four years ago after wrapping up No. 8 in another relay. "Without the help of my teammates it wouldn't have been possible."
It's ironic, then, that Phelps' main rival has emerged to be fellow American Ryan Lochte, already an accomplished Olympic medal winner who is set to be a breakout star. Lochte carried some momentum into U.S. trials, but Phelps went 3-1 against him in finals.
It's a problem the American team doesn't mind having, this glut of world-class talent. After all, it's used to having a roster stacked to the high-water mark with multiple-medal threats.
Phelps, Lochte and Missy Franklin will lead another superstar U.S. swimming team into London, carrying, as Americans always do in the sport, the weighty banner of overwhelming favorites.
The Americans will surpass 500 all-time Olympic swimming medals in the English capital -- they have 489 -- and Phelps is almost certain to smash the record for most individual medals.
He has 16 already, including an Olympic-record 14 golds. (What, you forgot he won six gold and two bronze medals in Athens?) The current record belongs to Larisa Latynina, a Russian gymnast who collected 18 medals in the 1950s and 60s. Phelps is three medals from passing her, a surer outcome than his chase of Mark Spitz's gold medal record for a single games in Beijing.
Phelps will swim only seven events, including three relays, after dropping the 200 free following trials so that he can focus more energy on the other races. In six of those events, he has won gold in each of the last two Olympics.
Teammate Lochte will be his biggest threat in two of the events, the 200 and 400 individual medleys.
Franklin, all of 17 years old, will become the first American female to swim in seven Olympic events, and her emergence on the U.S. team highlights a changing of the guard.
All-timers Dara Torres and Amanda Beard both failed to qualify for the London Games while Natalie Coughlin, after a remarkable run in Beijing that was only overshadowed by Phelps' headline-hogging accomplishments, barely made it out of trials with a lone spot on the 400-meter freestyle relay team.
"We have so many young people on the team," Phelps said after trials. "I was walking past one of the swimmers after they made the team and jumping up and down crying, so excited. That's awesome to see, and I think it's going to be amazing for us to have on the team that level of excitement."
Not that the old faces are all gone.
One, Anthony Ervin, has come back from out of nowhere after giving up the sport almost 10 years ago. Ervin qualified for the 50 meter free, which he won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics before retiring in 2003 and auctioning off the gold medal to aid victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami.
Now 31 years old, Ervin said he felt "overwhelming relief" to make it through trials and earn a spot on the team again and that his goal for London was to simply have a good time.
"I just want to keep this fun train chugging," he said.
Brendan Hansen, once one of the best breaststrokers in the world, is also back after shunning retirement for another chance to win the individual gold that eluded him in Athens and Beijing.
He won the 100 breast at trials to earn his spot on a third straight team.
"I was more relieved than I was happy," Hansen said afterward. "If you were going to see a smile out of me, it would probably be if I did something I didn't think I was going to do, and I kinda went in there and did what I thought I could do, so I was expecting that from myself.
"That being said," he finished, "I think I was just relieved more than anything else."
Ryan Cochrane was just 19 when he won Canada's only swimming medal in Beijing, a bronze in the 1,500 free, and he remains the country's top hope for a gold heading into London.
Cochrane holds Canadian records in two distances other than the 1,500 -- the 400 and 800 -- and will also swim the 400 in London. He earned double golds at the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
Swimming will take place over eight days at the new Aquatics Centre, from July 28 to Aug. 4.
One thing Americans are sure to miss is live primetime coverage.
Four years ago, with Phelps chasing Spitz's record and a perfectly symmetrical 12-hour time difference between Beijing and the East Coast, organizers agreed to hold swimming finals in the morning so they could be seen as they happened at night in the U.S.
Things are switched back for London, with heats in the morning and finals at night. That means medal swims in the afternoon for most American TV viewers.