LONDON (AFP) – Michael Phelps will cement his Olympic legacy in London, leading a US team that still expects to dominate the pool ahead of traditional rivals Australia and rising powers such as China.
Phelps’s unprecedented eight gold medals at the Beijing Games led the United States to a 31-medal haul in 2008, including 12 golds from the 32 events, nine silver and 10 bronze.
The American, who owns 14 Olympic gold medals overall, won’t try to match that feat in London, but his seven-event programme gives him plenty of room to make more Games history.
Phelps is the two-time defending champion in all four of his individual events – the 100m and 200m butterﬂy and 200m and 400m individual medley.
He is aware that no male swimmer has won the same Olympic event at three successive Games.
“I have always wanted to be the ﬁrst person to do something,’’ Phelps offered obliquely at the US trials, otherwise giving little insight into the personal goals that are driving him at his last Olympics.
However, during Phelps’s post-Beijing lull, teammate Ryan Lochte has emerged as a serious challenger in both medleys.
Their rivalry promises plenty of ﬁreworks, although neither can afford to forget the challenge from the rest of the world.
“It’s a pretty big world,’’ US men’s head coach Gregg Troy said. “There’s a lot of good swimmers out there. I think if we take anything lightly we’re making mistakes.’’
On the women’s side, the Americans have a new weapon in Missy Franklin, already a world champion at 17 who is slated for seven events.
The Americans were last beaten in the swimming medals table by the former East Germany at the 1988 Games, and while Australian swimming officials say they expect to claim as many as 15 medals even they don’t expect to surpass the USA.
“I think realistically we can be around the total of medals we had in Athens – 15,’’ Australian head coach Leigh Nugent said, adding: “The gap has closed on us.
“The US are the big challenge. They have dominated swimming for 100 years. There are other players who are making it tougher for us to stay in that number two position,’’ Nugent said.