We interupt our daily hyperventilating countdown to the start of the football season and the Utah opener, to bring you a little Olympic chatter.
You may have heard of some kid named Micheal Phelps. It's possible he's been on one or two magazine covers in recent weeks. Phelps mania begins tonight at the Beijing games. After coralling six gold (of a total eight medals) in the '04 games in Athens, Phelps is chasing history again as he tries to get eight goals and break Mark Spitz's record. Ever since his Greek bounty, Phelps has been attending UM, training with the elite swim team Club Wolverine, and serving as a volunter assistant for the University's team, that way allowing himself to collect beacoup endorsement dollars. It's a perk of being the greatest swimmer in the world.
His pursuit of history takes center stage tonight. NBC twisted enough arms so that all the swimming finals will be swum in the morning hours in China. The result? All those events will be shown live by the network during their primetime broadcasts. From now until next Saturday night, expect a heavy dose of Phelps, the bathing beauties of the US Women's team and a little Australian rivalry to stir the pot.
Phelps' event tonight is the 400 Individual Medley. That's 100 yards (two laps) of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. According to the schedules on the nbc website, the 400 IM will be at 10 pm tonight and is the first of the four finals going off tonight. I dont know if we can trust those schedules, though, so I will be tuning in when the primetime begins at 8. Apparently, the beach volleyball team of May/Walsh will have a live match before the swimming, so I'll gladly watch those bikini's while waiting for the swimming. Here's the breakdown of tonight's first showdown for Phelps:
Toughest race for Phelps? Conventional wisdom is claiming this will be his hardest event to win gold in. We'll see, but that analysis misses a lot of key points such as this will be the most fresh Phelps will be in any of his other possible finals this week. He says it's his favorite event, so he will come out blazing. He has swum 11 of the fastest 22 times (and six of the fastest eight) in the history of this event. He is the current world record holder and has set said record seven different times. Since setting the mark for the first time six years ago, he has lowered that mark by nearly six seconds (it now sits at 4:05.25). He is the defending gold medalist. Is it worth mentioning that he has never lost a race in this event in international competition? Probably, just a little.
Capital One Bowl Maybe the reason the experts claim this will be his toughest individual race of the entire meet is the quality of his top rival in this race: fellow countryman Ryan Lochte. Lochte is a champion swimmer from the University of Florida. Consider this race the Capital One Bowl of the Olympics as Wolverine and Gator but heads. Lochte has medaled in past Olympics and World Championships, but rarely wins gold because he loses out to Phelps, perhaps the greatest ever, in the IMs and to Aaron Piersol, this decade's best backstroker, in those events. He's a laid back dude, but seems convinced he can pull off the upset tonight. Lothe has said several times that if he can hang with Phelps until the breaststroke legs that he can take him.
Watch the turns You've heard of a basketball player dominating the boards. Well, Phelps dominates the wall. Watch his turns. What he does off the wall just doesn't look human. He's a human dolphin. He can lag back a stroke during the body of the pool, but come out of a turn a stroke ahead. That could be the difference tonight. In the epic battle at the US Trials in the 200 IM, Phelps out touched Lochte by .02 seconds (setting a world record in the process) and did it on strength of those turns. They will be making seven flips on the wall during this race tonight and thats a big advantge for Phelps.
Want to bet Phelps? Take ot a loan Oddsmakers doubt this will be his toughest final of the Games. He was -1000 ( one must wager a grand to win a hundred, thats some pretty bitter juice) when most books took the race of the board when the prelims started. Pinnacle Sports (which does not take bets from people in the US) still has live odds up and Phelps is now -1700 to win tonight's gold. No one else is on the board, but you can take the field at 12 to 1. Expect a fast swim. The odds of the world record going down is a solid favorite of -170.
Phelps victory strategy It might take a world record for Phelps. Lothe qualified in three events for these games, finishing second at the trials losing out each time to a world record effort. Twice by Phelps.
Not all nerves are wrecked the same This morning while watching both indoor and beach volleyball announcer were critical of the poor early play of U.S. teams citing nerves while playing their Olympic opener. Contrast that to Phelps qualifying heat this morning. Announcers on that race wondered if he was swimming too well and too fast as he was under world record pace for the first four laps. As it was, Phelps cruised to an Olympic record this morning. Nice opening statement. Loche qualifed in fifth, but he obviously eased up the final half lap as he had his heat and spot in the finals in hand. Both did an excellent job it seems of leaving something in the tank for tonight.
Quick turnaround or a day in the life of jamiemac They swam those heats this morning, but that was night time in China. After a night of sleep, they will wake up and swim off for the gold. In the 12 hours since, I have run four miles, done a load of laundry, cleaned my kitchen, took care of horses, spent a couple hours by the side of a pool and now have had a couple of brewskis. I could not imagine having to gear up to swim a high stakes international race on such a short turnaround. Ok, so they've been sleeping. But I am pretty sure that after swimming eight laps, you could give me a night of sleep and I still would not be able to drag myself out of bed. It will be interesting to see how all the swimmers throughout this week handle some of these quick turnarounds. Maybe it keeps a lot of world records from falling. We'll see.
Prediction At most, this is a two person race, and I'm going with Phelps. He'll be the frontrunner after the fly and back. He's so improved in the breast that Loche might catch up with Phelps, but he wont be able to gain control of the race. The final turn on the freestyle leg will be the difference putting Phelps ahead for good. They both ought to be pushing world record pace. Its an American 1-2 finish. I would be stunned if Phelps and Loche dont go 1-2 in some fashion. As for bronze, the Hungarian Lazlo Czesch is the pick on paper, but he sometimes has struggled in bigger events. I like the Canadien swimmer, Brians Johns to snare a surprise medal. With nobody watching he snuck in second behind Lochte in the qualifying heat. Maybe he does the same thing tonight when the rest of field has given up on chasing the two Americans? I will say despite the Phelps prediction, if I were to put cash on the event, I would take a small flier on the 12-1 field and hope Loche breaks through with the swim of his life. Laying that kind of juice on the favorite--even if it looks like such a sure thing--is not prudent. Just ask the folks with Big Brown "to win" tickets for the Belmont.
Wait, there is another maize and blue swimmer tonight? Hurrah for the Yellow and Blue Lets quickly give another Club Wolverine swimmer some pub as well. Former UM swimmer Peter Vanderkaay will be swimming in the 400 freestyle final tonight. He is a major threat for the medal podium in what is one of the more wide open events of the swim meet. This event has been the domain of Aussie Ian Thorp for the last two Olympics. He's retired, and now this is anyone's race. Aussie Grant Hacket and North Korean Park Tae Hwan have been projected by SI to win Gold and Silver. But, Hacket only qualified with the fifth best time and Park the third best. The Aussie is dominant at longer distances, particularily the 1500, and Park might be better in a more sprint race. I dont trust SI's projections in this (or in football for that matter!) race. American Larsen Jensen is the American record holder and Vanderkaay has been one the most improved swimmers in international play the last couple of years. Both can win. Watch to see if home pool advantage comes into play tonight. China's Lin Zhnag surprised Park to win their heat this morning, helped by the large home contigent pushing him through his surge down the stretch. They will be yelling in full throat tonight and he could easily use that and get on the medal stand.
Just about everyone in this race can win it and certainly any of the eight swimmers can grab a spot on the medal podium. Right now, Park is the betting favorite at 2-1 with Hackett and Jensen at 3-1. Zhang is 5-1 and Vanderkaay is the long shot of sorts at 12-1. I like Jensen in this one, only because he looked the smoothest in this morning's prelim heats. I feel good about Vanderkaay getting a medal, but its not because SI tabbed him for the bronze. Maybe its just a hunch that his wolverine paw gets in on the wall ahead of most of the others. He'll go bronze with Park getting Silver. I'd put money on both Americans in this one, however, and come out ahead.
Either way, I expect all four American men racing in finals tonight to earn a medal. And, it will be a good night for the maize and blue.