Michael Phelps will return to competitive swimming on May 14th at Charlotte UltraSwim, a meet that is part of the USA Swimming Grand Prix series. Phelps will join backstroker Ryan Lochte and several other USA Olympians at this meet, which serves as a quiz before the big test that is the World Championships in Rome this July.
This will be Phelps’ first meet after serving his three month suspension sanctioned by USA Swimming following Bong Water Gate.
The meet begins on Thursday May 14th with the distance freestyle events. The women will compete in an 800 meter freestyle race and the men will swim the 1500 meter freestyle. I do not expect Phelps to compete in the 1500.
On Friday May 15th, Phelps has a choice between swimming the 100 meter butterfly or the 400 individual medley, which are listed as back-to-back events at this meet. While he could compete in both, I expect him to focus on the 100 butterfly, which is his stronger event.
Ryan Lochte will most likely beat Phelps in the 400 IM this early in the season, and it would be good for Phelps to get up and race former Texas Longhorn Ian Crocker in the 1-fly, who is the world record holder in that event.
Although it has not been confirmed that Ian Crocker will compete in this meet, I expect him to post in lieu of a disappointing individual performance at the 2008 Beijing Games. Even if Phelps loses to Crocker, it will be good for Phelps to get some high-intensity race experience after being out of competition since Beijing. Of course, that’s assuming that Crocker makes his first career appearance at Charlotte. Crocker and Phelps have had a friendly rivalry in this event, in which the high level of competition has fueled these swimmers to continuously trade world record-holder status. Crocker is still the only swimmer in history to break 51 seconds in the event.
Phelps is also likely to compete in the 200 freestyle on Friday, and look for Peter Vanderkaay to give him a race in that event.
On Saturday, look for Phelps to swim in the 200 fly. If enough swimmers from NBAC qualify for the meet, he could also compete in the 400 medley relay, where he will swim either the lead-off backstroke leg or the butterfly leg.
Sunday will be Phelps’ lighter day, as he will most likely focus solely on the 200 IM.
In 2006, the last time Phelps competed at Charlotte, he won five events and set two meet records. This year, I predict that he will swim in four events and win three.
This year, he will most likely compete in the 200 freestyle, 100 butterfly, 200 butterfly, and the 200 IM. I think he will win the 2-free and the 2-fly, lose to Crocker in the 100 fly, and win the 200 IM.
I will be blogging more about this event, and swimming in general, as the USA Swimming Grand Prix season gets underway this Spring.