OMAHA, Neb. — Michael Phelps’ Olympic program is set. He’ll be going for another eight gold medals.
He’s not the only one who’ll be busy in London. Get ready to see a lot of Missy Franklin.
And how ’bout Anthony Ervin! After eight years away from swimming, he’ll be at the Olympics, too.
Phelps wrapped up another stellar week at the U.S. trials Sunday night, rallying to win the 100-meter butterfly and secure his spot in five individual races at the Olympics. Throw in the three relays, and that adds up to eight.
“I guess that’s OK,” Phelps said nonchalantly.
Franklin will have four individual races in London after capping her week with a dominating win in the 200 backstroke. She’s expected to swim all three relays, as well, setting her up to become the first U.S. woman to swim seven events in a single games.
Uhh, make that the first female. She’s still a girl, a 17-year-old who’ll be a high school senior in the fall. But first, she’s got some important business this summer: the Olympics.
“I can’t believe I have seven events,” Franklin said. “It’s so overwhelming but so exciting. The whole week went really, really well.”
Ervin will have only one event in London, a chaotic dash from one of the pool to the other. But it’s amazing that he’s going at all, considering he walked away from the sport in 2003 while at the peak of his career, burned out and desperate to discover a deeper meaning to life. He spent eight years working odd jobs, finished his college degree and even auctioned off the gold medal he won in the 50 free at Sydney in 2000 to aid tsunami victims.
Now, after returning to the sport just a year ago, he’s got a chance to win another gold. A runner-up finish behind Cullen Jones in the 50 freestyle locked up his improbable spot on the American team.
“I am surprised to be here at all,” said the 31-year-old Ervin, whose has a sleeve of tattoos on each arm and turns interviews into a discussion on everything from philosophy to Biblical parables.
He put on quite a show during the medal ceremony, grabbing the mic and shouting, “The journey continues, because I’m going to Londonnnnn!” Then, after slamming it to the deck with a loud thud, he took off on a victory lap around the arena, soaking up the cheers of more than 12,000 fans.
A couple of other races provided quite a generation gap. Fifteen-year-old Kathleen Ledecky earned a spot on her first Olympic team with a win in the 800 freestyle, while 45-year-old Dara Torres advanced to the final of the women’s 50 free — and a shot at her sixth Olympic team — with the third-fastest time in the semifinals.
“It’s much tougher this time around,” said Torres, who won three silver medals in Beijing but had only one event at these trials. “People were saying I was middle aged when I was 41, but I’m really, really middle aged now.”
Phelps was slow off the blocks and made the turn in sixth place. But he caught Tyler McGill on the return lap and surged to the wall to win 51.14 seconds, well off his world-record pace (49.82) but fastest in the world this year.
McGill hung on for the second Olympic spot in 51.32. Ryan Lochte, swimming an event he normally doesn’t in major competitions, just missed adding another race to his already busy program. He was third, 33-hundreths behind McGill.
Phelps, who won an Olympic-record eight golds four years ago, is set to swim the same in individual events in London: the 100 and 200 fly, the 200 and 400 individual medley and the 200 freestyle.
In an ominous sign for his rivals, Phelps isn’t happy with just winning. He’s still looking for the perfect race.
“That was a pretty crappy first 50 and a pretty terrible finish,” Phelps said. “I should have taken another stroke. It felt OK. It didn’t feel great, didn’t feel terrible.
“It’s done, we’re done.”
Well, not quite.
The races that really matter are still to come.
“It shows that I can do the kind of event program like this at a high level again,” Phelps said. “We were struggling over the last couple years at doing one event at this level. (It’s good) being able to get a couple under the belt this week and hopefully build off of this. It will be good to get home and start heading toward London.”
Phelps legacy is already secure, no matter what he does in London.
Franklin’s star is still on the rise.
The teenager blew away the field in the 200 back with a time of 2 minutes, 6.12 seconds, fastest in the world this year and nearly 1 1/2 seconds ahead of runner-up Elizabeth Beisel, who secured the second spot in London at 2:07.58.
Franklin had already earned spots in the 100 and 200 freestyle and 100 back, but the 200 back is her best event. She’s the defending world champion and heads to London as the overwhelming favorite in that race.
“She’s the best in the world for a reason. She can beat all of us pretty handily,” Beisel said.
Some teenagers have wilted in the Olympic spotlight.
Beisel expects Franklin to thrive.
“She handles the media so well,” the runner-up said. “I can see a lot of pressure on her, but she handles it like she’s 25 and she’s been doing this for years. Props to her for being so amazing at that.”
Ledecky will be the youngest member of the U.S. team, going out strong to win the 800 free in 8:19.78. Kate Ziegler, a former world champion who struggled in Beijing, is heading to her second Olympics after touching behind Ledecky in 8:21.87.
“I just went for it and tried to hold on,” Ledecky said. “I’m so excited to be able to represent the USA.”
Lochte, who already has three races against Phelps in London and a fourth individual event in the 200 backstroke, surprised everyone by sticking with the 100 fly at the end of a grueling week.
He nearly pulled it off, too. If not for McGill’s blistering start, Lochte probably would have gotten the second spot.
But he never had any intention of swimming the 100 fly at the Olympics because it would have left him with three events in one day.
“I still probably wouldn’t have swum it just because I don’t want to do that triple again in London,” Lochte said. “I have no regrets. This meet was a training meet.”
He plans on being even stronger at the games.
“I wanted to go at the end of this meet knowing that there is so much left,” Lochte said. “I haven’t fully rested yet. Come London, I’ll have that full taper and be fully rested and hopefully I’ll be a lot faster.”
He enjoyed getting another chance to race Phelps, even if he didn’t have much chance of beating him.
“It was fun,” Lochte said. “It was something I’ve never done before at a big swim meet. I just went out there and had fun.”