There will be no repeat of the Great Eight for Michael Phelps.
That is now official. And that is a good thing for Phelps.
His coach, Bob Bowman, announced via Twitter Monday that Phelps is dropping the 200-meter freestyle from his Olympic program in London. Phelps will only swim seven events: the 200 and 400 individual medley; the 100 and 200 butterfly; and his presumed inclusion on all three American relays. He isn't going to attempt to tie his own record for gold medals in a single Olympic Games, set in 2008 in Beijing.
This is smart, in both the small scale and the grand scheme.
It is smart because at age 27, competing in his fourth Olympics and attempting to overcome a compressed preparation time for London, he's not up to an eight-event grind. The 200 free prelims and semifinals are slotted between two grueling Phelps centerpiece events – two swims of the 400 IM on the first day of the London swimming program and three of the 200 butterfly on the third and fourth days . Plus there is a 400 freestyle relay on Day Two to think about.
Remove the 200 free and it will give him a greater chance to be at the top of his game in those two individual races, events in which he's won gold in each of the past two Olympics.
Heading to London, no one has won an individual swimming event in three straight Games. Attempting to win the 200 free – after swimming a time that probably wouldn't be competitive for gold in the Olympic Trials last week – would only make those other events harder.
"This gives me time to recover from the 400 IM and prepare for other events," Phelps told Yahoo! Sports Monday. "The 200 fly is a very important race for me. I want to try to be as rested for that as I can be."
The bigger picture is this: Now Phelps is free to pursue as much glory as he can accrue without having to compete with his own insuperable accomplishment. There is no burden to match what he did in Beijing; it's no longer numerically possible.
Phelps has said from the beginning of this 2012 bid that he couldn't duplicate the greatest feat in Olympic history. But as long as he was entered in eight events, the possibility existed – and with that would come the questions and the pressure of trying to be the same swimmer now that he was during his superhuman performance in 2008.
"We won't hear the number eight again after this press conference," Bowman said. "As Michael said all along, it wasn't going to be eight. He's said that for the last four years."
Now Phelps can merely shoot for seven, which would tie Mark Spitz for the second-best Olympic swim performance in history. Still incredibly ambitious on a human scale, but slightly less so on a Phelpsian one.
He has a very good chance of winning seven medals in London. His odds of winning seven golds are considerably longer at this point.
"After we saw [in Omaha] what he did, which was quite good, we realized that the level he did here will not be acceptable to win gold medals in London in most of the events," Bowman said.
Which is another reason to drop a race. If Phelps needs to ramp up his game some more between now and the end of the month, having fewer events to prepare for will aid that process.
Besides the victory for Phelps' body and sanity, the biggest winner Monday was Ricky Berens. He finished third in the 200 free in Omaha and was headed to London solely as an Olympic relay swimmer – until the social media maven saw Bowman's tweet.
"If anything, I thought he would drop the 400 IM," Berens told Yahoo! Sports. "Then I saw the tweet and it said 200 free. I was like, 'Wait, what?' I went back to re-read it again and said to my roommate [at Trials), Eric Shanteau, ‘My God, dude, I think I'm swimming the 200 free at the Olympics.' "
Behrens tried calling Bowman and Phelps to confirm but couldn't reach them. Then USA Swimming confirmed it, and he sprinted off to find his girlfriend, Olympic breastroker Rebecca Soni. He interrupted her massage to tell her the news.
"I'm stoked," Berens said. "This is a huge, huge confidence boost. Now I have some huge shoes to fill. Bob and Michael have given me this opportunity and now I have to take advantage of it."
And now Michael Phelps has the opportunity of entering the final meet of his unparalleled career without having to compete with his own accomplishments.
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