Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Rumors have been swirling since Tuesday that Michael Phelps had withdrawn from the Minnesota Grand Prix that begins today at the University of Minnesota natatorium in Minneapolis. Late last night, those rumors were confirmed by the Minnesota Daily News.
There is growing frustration in and amongst the swimming community as this is the third time that Phelps has withdrawn from an event this season. The general feeling is that if Phelps doesn’t want to swim, that’s fine. But if people expect him to be at these meets, he needs to be there. This song-and-dance about withdrawing at the last minute, long after the event has been hyped through the roof and tickets have been sold and flights booked, gets a collective eye-roll from the swimming community.
Phelps has still not competed since August at the Pan Pac Championships, where he had a few good swims (notably in the 100 fly), but left the meet feeling very much disappointed in his performance. If Phelps, who can do whatever he wants and will still go down as the greatest swimmer in history, was serious in his comments about “growing the sport,” he would be better about showing up for these events. Selling glorified hottubs for the wealthy to swim in their backyard doesn’t grow the sport, showing up at meets like this grows the sport.
Luckily, the new best swimmer in the world, Ryan Lochte, will still be at this meet, along with a number of other swimming superstars like Ricky Berens, Missy Franklin, Liz Pelton, and Chloe Sutton. There will also be many of the biggest college stars in the midwest in attendance, like Michigan freshman Kyle Whitaker and Minnesota breaststroker Jillian Tyler.
This year’s Grand Prix series comes within a $20,000 prize, and certain other Grand Prix meets (notably the Charlotte Ultraswim) come with even bigger prizes. Swimmers are awarded 5 points for an event win, 3 points for a silver, and 1 point for a bronze. Last year, Chloe Sutton took home the check. The year before, Mary Descenza was the recipient, and in 2008, the last year Mr. Phelps took the event seriously (and the last year where $20,000 was worth his time), he won the money.