Lochte could face Phelps 3 times in Olympics tuneup
Published: Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 13, 2012 at 12:13 a.m.
AUSTIN, Texas — Former UF swimmer Ryan Lochte, who now ranks has Phelps' chief rival, has said he wants to "turn some heads" in London.
Lochte was named the United States' top male swimmer in 2011 after a dominant performance with six medals at the world championships is entered in six races at the Austin Grand Prix, with three potential matchups with Phelps in the 100 freestyle on Friday night and the 100 backstroke and the 200 medley Sunday night.
The Austin meet is the beginning of the final phase of training for the Olympic trials for many of the United States' top swimmers. Phelps, Lochte and Missy Franklin, the latest teen sensation among the American women, are among dozens of U.S. national team and international swimmers who will compete this weekend.
If Janet Evans is going to cap her comeback with a return to the London Olympics, it's time to get serious.
Once the precocious teen queen of American swimmers, the 40-year-old married mother of two returns to elite competition for the first time since her 1996 retirement at the Austin Grand Prix this weekend to start the final stretch of what she hopes will be a return to the Olympics in July.
The former gold medalist and world record holder will swim her signature events, the 400 and 800 meter freestyle on Friday and Sunday at the University of Texas. She'll find out just how far she has to go and whether her body will take her there against athletes half her age.
"Excited to swim against all the fast kids," Evans tweeted before boarding a flight to Austin on Thursday. She declined interview requests before the meet.
Evans isn't the only former U.S. Olympian coming out of retirement to shoot for Olympic glory this year.
Anthony Ervin, a gold medalist in the 50 freestyle in 2000 in Sydney who dropped out of competitive swimming in 2003 and Ed Moses, who won gold and silver in 2000 and is a former short course world record holder in the breaststroke, also are using the Austin meet to make a serious bid at a comeback.
Evans was 17 when she set the world record in the 400 freestyle, one of three gold medals she won at the 1988 Seoul Games, and later set world mark in the 800 and 1,500 freestyle. Her time of 8 minutes, 16.22 seconds in the 800 set in 1989 still stands as the American record.
Evans retired after a disappointing effort in the 1996 Atlanta Games where she failed to qualify for the 400 freestyle and finished sixth in the 800. She returned to competition last year by setting new Masters marks in the 400 and 800 in the 35-39 age group in her own Janet Evans Invitational in Fullerton, Calif.
That was an impressive start, but setting records in her age division and qualifying for the Olympics against elite swimmers 20 years younger are entirely different challenges. Just how difficult it will be is reflected in the times she brings to the preliminaries in both of her races in Austin.
Her 2011 best time of 4:22.87 in the 400 places her 51st heading into Friday's prelims. It's a similar situation in the 800, where her 8:59.06 is 38th, making her a longshot to make the final in either event.
Evans' goal this weekend isn't to win, but to post the times she'll need to qualify for the Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb., in June, said Evans' coach, Mark Schubert.
But even that may be asking a lot this weekend. The qualifying standard in the 400 is 4:19.39 and the 800 is 8:50.49. Evans will need superb efforts in both to reach those marks
"We hope to get the cuts out of the way for trials and keep moving forward," Schubert said. "Her main event is the 800, but we'd certainly like to get both events qualified for."
While no swimmer has come back from such a long layoff to make the Olympics, don't count Evans out, Schubert said.
"I'm very confident that she will make the trials," he said. "And if she makes the finals, anything can happen."
The Austin Grand Prix was the first USA Swimming meet Evans could enter because she had to be subjected to random drug testing for a full year before she was eligible to compete.
Franklin will swim seven events in Austin. The 17-year-old was selected USA Swimming's top female athlete for 2011 after winning five medals at the world championships. It was Evans who presented her with the award at a ceremony in November.
Phelps has said he won't go to London trying to repeat his astonishing haul of eight gold medals in China in 2008. Phelps, who has won 14 career gold medals, is entered in six races in the pool where he set his first world record in the 200 butterfly in 2001 when he was 15.
"It's crazy that there's six months, seven months left in my career," Phelps said. "There are goals that I still have. Sure, it probably didn't show over the last three years that I was really serious, I kind of messed around ... (but) I still have goals I want to accomplish."
Phelps wouldn't say what his goals are. Phelps is 26 and London will be his third Olympics. While impressed that Evans is trying to make a comeback at 40, Phelps said he can't imagine ever doing the same after he finally walks away from the pool.
"Nope. No shot," Phelps said. "I've been seeing how hard it is the last three years."