LONDON – Michael Phelps is a mortal lock to make history Tuesday night. He'd prefer it to be golden history.
Phelps is one medal behind Russian gymnast Larissa Latynina for the most in Olympic annals – she won 18, he has 17. He will swim his signature event, the 200-meter butterfly, then follow that up with a leg on the United States' 4x200 freestyle relay. Latynina is expected to be in attendance at the Aquatics Centre on Tuesday to pass the torch.
It would be a bigger shock than finding ice-cold beer in Britain for Phelps to miss the medal podium in either event. But you know he doesn't want to back-door into the record book with anything other than a pair of golds.
And judging from his blistering leg in the 4x100 free relay Sunday night, that can definitely happen. By all indications Phelps has indeed put his puzzling, fourth-place finish in the 400 individual medley behind him.
After the relay Sunday night, Phelps was walking around the pool deck with his silver medal. That come-from-ahead loss to the French certainly wasn't Phelps' fault, and the smile on his face showed his satisfaction.
Up in the stands, a group of Americans cheered and shouted at Phelps. He looked up and recognized his friends, waving and signaling that he would text them later.
One member of the group turned and said, "You know what? He will not lose again. He's [expletive] ready."
That only begged the question: Why did he lose so badly Saturday night?
"I don't know why he did this," his friend said, "but he changed his strokes."
If you want to know anything about Phelps' strokes, you go to his coach, Bob Bowman. He's been coaching Phelps since he was a prepubescent, and he knows his star pupil's technique far better than anyone.
[ Photos: Michael Phelps ]
Asked if Phelps did indeed change his strokes, Bowman quipped, "Yeah. They weren't any good."
"There was a conscious decision to try to swim the race differently," Bowman continued. "Which he didn't do but thought he was doing. He didn't do it to the extent that it was working."
Bowman said the specific change, after a slow preliminary swim stuck him in Lane 8, was to try and take out the backstroke leg "really hard" in the first 50 meters. Instead, Phelps swam that in a dawdling 32.14 seconds, far slower than medalists Ryan Lochte, Thiago Pereira and Kosuke Hagino.
With the race strategy botched, Phelps missed the podium for the first time in an Olympic event since he was 15 years old in 2000. But as shocked as America was, Bowman said it was not unprecedented. He equated it to the 2005 world championships, when Phelps bombed the 400 free to start the meet, then came back to win five gold medals and one silver.
So Bowman wasn't going to panic after the 400 IM. Neither was Phelps. He got back on task Sunday in the relay, then swam two solid prelims in the 200 fly to position himself for his third straight Olympic gold in the event – something nobody has ever done.
"I just wanted to set myself up," he said after the semifinal swim. "Not in Lane 8."
He will be in Lane 2, seeded fourth, for that final. Don't bet on him staying fourth – not with history on the line.
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