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Michael Phelps isn’t going to swim 10 races at the Olympics

Chris Chase
Fourth-Place Medal

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Michael Phelps will enter seven races at next week's U.S. Olympic Swim Trials, it was independently reported by The Baltimore Sun and Yahoo! Sports, raising the possibility that the swimming legend could be going for an unprecedented 10 gold medals at next month's Summer Games in London. The 14-time gold medalist could qualify in all seven events at trials and swim three relays in London for the double-digit medal haul.

It would be an amazing achievement and perhaps the only way Phelps could top his record-setting performance in 2008.

There's virtually no chance it'll happen.

As both the Jean Marbella and Pat Forde stories note, Phelps can easily scratch events without penalty at the Trials. The most likely reason he'll do that: He has zero intention in competing in a number of the races he enters.

Phelps swam five individual events in Beijing and it was considered a monumental achievement. That plan called for 17 swims in nine days. Four years later, Bob Bowman, the architect of Phelps' programs at the Olympics, can't expect his athlete to swim more this year, not when his swimmer is four years older and has spent a chunk of the past 48 months in varying degrees of shape.

London is Phelps' legacy-clinching Olympics. He's already set to go down in history as the greatest swimmer, the best Olympian and the most-decorated medalist ever at the Games. With a resume like that, less may be more in 2012.

Forget about the round, headline-making number of 10 races. Nobody expects Phelps to try that many. But is going for eight even worth it? If we accept the fact that Phelps isn't quite as dominant as he was in 2008, that the swimming world has ever-so-slightly caught up to him  and that tremendous fortune (a collapse by Alain Bernard and an awkward touch by Milorad Cavic) was needed to get two of those eight golds in Beijing, why risk fatigue and a besmirched reputation in London by getting greedy? Silver and bronze medals are essentially worthless to Phelps and Bowman. Don't expect them to enter races that bring those shades into play.

A swimmer like Ryan Lochte has nothing to lose by shooting high and entering eight events. A haul of, say, four golds, two silvers and two bronze would be a staggering Olympic achievement for him. The world would consider it a disappointment for Phelps (correctly or not). Such are the burdens of high expectations.

There is precedence for Phelps scratching races at trials. In 2008, he entered eight individual races before withdrawing from three before the meet in Indianapolis.

He may stay in a race like the 100 free, post a time in prelims and then scratch the semifinals. He may go out of his comfort zone and swim the 200 back. He could go back on his promise and swim the 400 IM, thus setting up an possibly-epic Olympic showdown with Lochte. Or he could be selective with his Omaha and London program, thus setting up a manageable, yet still epic, run at Olympic history. Four individual races and three relays (perhaps with one of those swims in a morning session) are his most likely path. That could change by one on either end. Don't expect any more or less than that.

Because Michael Phelps has been perfect before. His goal for London will be to stay that way.

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