For Michael Phelps at Olympic Trials, nothing is a lock

Michael Phelps
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Bob Bowman was convinced, for no particular reason, that Michael Phelps would perform terribly going into the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia.

It turned out to be the best meet of his life. Coach and swimmer now agree Phelps swam better in 2007 than at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Phelps won all five of his individual events in Melbourne, plus two relays, with five world records total. A preliminary medley relay disqualification, which did not involve Phelps, kept him from a shot at eight gold medals.

How does Bowman’s incorrect prediction from nine years ago factor into next week’s U.S. Olympic Trials?

“What I think really doesn’t matter,” Bowman said Saturday. “What he does in a couple of days is what’s going to matter.”

Neither Bowman nor Phelps were firm in their predictions on the eve of Trials. Not how well he will swim. Not even how many total events he will swim out of the five he’s signed up for.

“We’re in the ‘I don’t know stage’ right now, but in about three days we’ll know,” Bowman said. “I always don’t really have a feel for it until he swims. … I think he’s trained a lot better than he has, and he seems to be doing well in practice. That’s all we can ask for. But I think he’s going to do well.”

Later, Bowman added, “Every sign is good. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t tell you.”

Which led Phelps to quip, “We’re pretty good at hiding things.”

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Phelps will swim at his fifth and final Olympic Trials in a well-publicized different state than four years ago, when he and Bowman were privately feuding to the point that Phelps once missed 10 straight days of practice.

What Phelps has revealed is that he was frustrated by his pre-Trials tune-up meet three weeks ago in Austin, Texas.

He is expected to have designs on making the Olympic team in three individual events — the 100m and 200m butterflies and the 200m individual medley — and being part of the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relay pools, along with the 4x100m medley relay.

“I did a lot of thinking, and I’m pretty much set on what I want to swim,” Phelps said. “You guys will see the first event soon.”

Phelps’ earliest possible Trials race would be a 200m freestyle preliminary heat Monday morning at the CenturyLink Center. He could scratch that event, though, since he doesn’t have to race it to be eligible for the 4x200m free relay.

“Nothing is a lock,” Phelps, who hasn’t posted a strong individual 200m free time in his comeback, said of the relays. “Whoever is swimming the best should be on this relay. Obviously, if you’re in a rhythm, and you didn’t swim it at Trials, or you didn’t swim it at a meet leading up to it, and the coach thinks you should be on it, then that’s their decision. I’m fine with whatever they choose.”

Decisions on relay lineups are made by the U.S. coaching staff. Bowman is the U.S. men’s head coach.

“You have to weigh how he does at these Trials, and if he’s at his top level, you have to assume he’s at his top level across the board,” Bowman said.

MORE: Olympic Swimming Trials broadcast schedule