IRVINE , Calif. — The fastest swimmer doesn’t always win.
Any number of issues can derail a race, and they can even take down the world’s best.
Shocking lapses from Michael Phelps and two-time Olympic medalist Elizabeth Beisel made waves on the first two nights of the U.S. Swimming Championships.
Phelps mistimed a flip turn in the 100m freestyle final Wednesday, barely touching the wall with his feet. He lost significant momentum and finished seventh.
Beisel was more glaring in slipping to begin the 200m backstroke Thursday. Rather than launching backward off the start, she dropped into the water and essentially had to start the distance from a dead hang.
Beisel, the Olympic 200m back bronze medalist, finished sixth, 3.99 seconds behind Missy Franklin.
They are what swimmers call age-grouper mistakes, stuff that happens when they’re starting to compete as kids.
“Olympians make mistakes, too,” Beisel said.
What specific problems befall them?
“Everything,” seven-time Olympic medalist Aaron Peirsol said. “My goggles have filled up. My suit’s fallen down. My suit has ripped. I’ve missed walls. I’ve slipped off blocks. I’ve slipped off pads. I’ve slipped off pads at the Olympic Games.”
The most famous recent race mishaps include Phelps, when his goggles filled with water in the 200m butterfly final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Phelps still won of course, en route to his eight-for-eight gold effort, but he tossed his cap and goggles on the Water Cube deck in obvious frustration. The goal-oriented Phelps eyed a faster time before he was blinded.
Nathan Adrian‘s suit ripped on the starting blocks of the 100m free at the Indianapolis Grand Prix in March 2012, four months before he won the event at the London Olympics.
Adrian still won the race in Indianapolis, and quickly covered his exposed butt crack with a white towel after getting out of the pool.
Disqualifications happen in many ways, too. In breaststroke especially, swimmers are monitored closely for taking one too many dolphin kicks at the start or off walls before resuming the stroke.
Australia’s greatest swimmer ever, Ian Thorpe, lost his balance on the block and fell into the pool for a false start at the 2004 Olympic Trials.
Relay swimmers mistime exchanges and jump into the pool too quickly, like Ian Crocker did at the 2007 World Championships in the medley relay, denying Phelps an eighth gold medal at that meet.
Twelve-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin has been disqualified for staying under water too long off the start of a freestyle race.
“There’s only so much you can really prepare for,” Peirsol said. “You kind of just have to accept stuff’s going to happen. If you stick around long enough, you’ll see everything.”
The backstroke slip would be all but eliminated by a special wedge to aid swimmers at the start. It was planned to be implemented at Nationals for the first time this week, but FINA cooled on the prototype, and it won’t debut until the fall at the earliest (Swimming World has more here).
Beisel can’t worry about that now. She moved on Friday to her next event, the 400m individual medley, hoping she can qualify for the Pan Pacific Championships team.
“Hopefully I got all my bad luck out of the way,” Beisel said.