This is a story that first broke a few weeks ago, but with a lull in the international swimming circuit for a few days, we thought that now would be a great time to examine it.
In early April, Swimming Australia chief Kevi Niel announced that his organization was going to try and lure the great Michael Phelps to Sydney for their second-annual Summer Swim Series in January of 2012. The first event of the meet held this year was wildly successful on every level, and is credited with renewing National enthusiasm for the sport after an overall lackluster year in 2010 for the Dolphins.
The Australians were reportedly near a deal to bring Phelps in this past year, but were unable to work out the timing with his “schedule” (training or otherwise) to land him down under. This meet has a fantastic format where the athletes are split up (via draft) into four different teams, with each one captained by a different Australian swimming legend. The captains and some of their celebrity friends even get in on the action with legends-and-stars relays. The two-day event is surrounded by a ton of pomp and fanfare that really gives the sport back to the fans (something that is often forgotten).
The meet would be an awesome battle with incredible timing. Australian superstar Ian Thorpe is expected to make his first competitive return at November’s Singapore Grand Prix stop, but this meet would likely be one of his first major long-course competitions since his comeback. It would be about 2-months out of the Australian Olympic Trials, so presumably he and Phelps would both presumably be very focused.
It would also be a great teaser for the Olympics and the two swimmers’ potential battle in the 100 and/or 200 freestyles in a rematch of their Athens 2004 “Race of the Century” in the 200 free (which was won by Thorpe). In fact, it appears that this might be one of our only chances to see the two most popoular swimmers in the history of the sport to race again: Thorpe has said his individual focus will be on the 100 and helping Australia’s relays, and it’s going to be very tough for Phelps to fit the 100 free into his schedule at the London Olympics: the semi-finals precede the 200 fly finals, where he will have a shot at history in becoming the first man to ever win 3-straight golds in the same event, and the 800 free relay.
The rivalry grew, even without head-to-head battle in 2008, after Phelps revealed that he used public comments by Thorpe, about whether or not Phelps’ quest for 8 golds was doable, as bulletin-board motivational material. Phelps had used Thorpe as an idol early in his career.
What would be even more exciting is if an arrangement is made where Thorpe makes the return trip for, say, a final tuneup at one of the USA Swimming Grand Prix meets. Though we don’t know exactly how Thorpe will look in his return to the pool, and as of late Phelps has been supplanted by Ryan Lochte as the star of USA Swimming, a head-to-head battle between Phelps and Thorpe would earn a near-Pavlovian salivary response from casual and hardcore swim fans alike.