Phelps continues his road to the Olympics

By Betsy Helfand

Minnesota Daily, U. Minnesota via UWIRE

Phelps continues his road to the Olympics

It’s easy to get lost in the chaos of a swim meet. Swimmers and divers in a cluster of heats compete one after another, and it can at times be hard to distinguish who’s who.

When Michael Phelps swims, all that changes — everyone stops what they’re doing and watches.

Around 700 swimmers, including Phelps and various other Olympians and world record-holders, competed this weekend in the Minneapolis Grand Prix at the U. Minnesota Aquatic Center.

The 16-time Olympic medalist was the star of the weekend, as he competed in his first meet this season while preparing for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Phelps, 26, withdrew from last year’s Minneapolis Grand Prix the day before the competition began.

He won the 100-meter butterfly and the 200-meter freestyle Friday. He followed up with two wins Saturday in the 200-meter butterfly and the 100-backstroke, in which he barely edged out former Gophers swimmer David Plummer.

Phelps also dominated the 200-meter individual medley race Sunday.

“For the first meet back of the season, it shows that things are heading in the right direction, which is something I’m very proud of and happy with to be able to see,” Phelps said.

Phelps, who won the men’s high-point award for the meet, said he has set a few lofty goals he hopes to accomplish by the Olympics.

“The only person I control is myself, and I know if I can set myself up to what I want to do at the end of the summer, that’s all that matters. I have definitely some very, very high goals for myself for the end of the summer,” Phelps said.

Ryan Lochte, a six-timeOlympic medalist, also raced at the Grand Prix. Lochte, 27, finished third in the 200-meter freestyle consolation final and eighth in the 100-meter butterfly final Friday.

Lochte finished fourth in the 100-meter backstroke Saturday. He also qualified for the 200-meter individual medley, but did not race in the finals.

Lochte said he was using this meet to gauge where he stood physically, but didn’t have high expectations given his current stage of training. He said he’s trained exceptionally hard for the past year and a half. The non-stop training with few breaks may have hindered his weekend performance.

“I know I’m a little behind right now. I’m a little bit more tired, I think, than anybody else,” Lochte said.

Despite the lower-than-expected finishes from the Olympian, he said that he was in the best physical shape of his life and that this year is the most he has trained for the Olympics.

Friday’s 200-meter freestyle was highly anticipated because of the deep field and the potential Phelps-Lochte matchup in the finals.

Lochte missed the finals in that event, but he and Phelps swam against each other in Friday’s 100-meter butterfly and Saturday’s 100-meter backstroke. Phelps came out on top in both events.

Phelps and Lochte expressed mutual respect and said that they enjoyed racing each other.

“I love racing against him. It’s so much fun. He’s just a great competitor and a great racer,” Lochte said.

Though the two are friends, and won a gold medal racing together on the 4×200-meter freestyle relay team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, a rivalry has emerged.

“I mean it’s definitely good for the sport, the rivalry that me and him created in the sport of swimming, so I definitely think that it’s just going to get bigger leading up to the Olympics,” Lochte said.

Four-time Olympic medalist breaststroke swimmer Brendan Hansen, 30, who took a two-year break from swimming after the 2008 Olympics, also competed in the Grand Prix.  He won the 100-meter breaststroke Friday and placed second in the 200-meter breaststroke Saturday.

Hansen said he wasn’t sure how many races he had to win for people to consider him “back” after winning the 100-meter breaststroke and 200-meter breaststroke at Nationals, but he did say that he saw room for improvement.

“I feel like there are definitely some technical and mechanical things I need to work on to really feel like I’m back on my game and back where I want to be,” Hansen said.

Missy Franklin, 16, won last year’s Grand Prix series and earned the women’s high-point award this weekend. She won five total medals: three gold, one silver and one bronze.

Twelve-time Olympic medalist Dara Torres, 44, who, at age 41 was the oldest swimmer ever to represent the U.S. in the Olympics, competed in the 50-meter freestyle. Torres tied for third.

The Minneapolis Grand Prix was the first of seven Grand Prix events this season hosted by USA Swimming. The Grand Prix series will wrap up June 3 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Swimmers get points based on their finish times, and the swimmer with the most points at the end of the series will be awarded a $20,000 prize.

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