Saturday, August 14, 2004

Phelps' golden quest receives a big boost


Coach adds star to 400 relay final

The Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece - Michael Phelps got his first Olympic win - before the Athens Games even began.

In a move that ticked off sprint star Gary Hall Jr. but should give Phelps his best chance to break Mark Spitz's record, the U.S. coaching staff tentatively reserved a spot for their most touted swimmer in the final of the 400-meter freestyle relay.

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Swimming is perhaps the most highly anticipated sport at the Athens Games, beginning today with Phelps as an overwhelming favorite to win his first gold medal in the 400 individual medley.

"Obviously, he's going to win multiple gold medals," American backstroker Lenny Krayzelburg said. "There's no question about that. It's just a matter of how many."

Phelps has his sights on Spitz's record of seven gold medals in one Games, set in 1972 at Munich.

Phelps qualified in a record six individual events at the Olympic Trials last month (he dropped one for competitive reasons).

Phelps also made it clear he wanted to swim all three relays at Athens, but he skipped the 100 free that is normally used to determine the pool of swimmers for the 400 relay.

Not to worry. The American coaches were suitably impressed by Phelps' time at a February meet, which would have been good enough for second at the trials.

After a workout Friday, Hall revealed that the coveted spots in the evening final would go to Jason Lezak, Ian Crocker and Phelps - plus a slot to be determined early today.

"There were no exceptions for anyone else," Hall said. "No one qualified for the Olympic team in February except Michael Phelps."

There is one scenario that could knock Phelps out of the relay final. The coaches told Hall and the other preliminary swimmers - Covington Catholic High graduate Nate Dusing, Neil Walker and Gabe Woodward - that if two of them swam faster than 48.4 seconds in the morning heat, both would get spots in the final at the expense of Phelps.

That seems unlikely. Hall has a personal best of 48.81. Walker's top time is 48.55. Neither Woodward nor Dusing has broken 49 seconds.

If form holds, only the top swimmer in the morning is likely to join the evening triumvirate. That would leave Phelps with eight chances to beat Spitz's record.

TRACK AND FIELD: Greece's biggest star might drop out of the Athens Games after missing a drug test.

Greece's Olympic Committee will meet today to discuss the case of sprinter Kostas Kenteris, the 200-meter Olympic champion who is accused of dodging a drug test and later was hospitalized after a motorcycle crash.

Kenteris and fellow Greek sprinter Katerina Thanou were in a motorcycle wreck Thursday night just hours after drug testers failed to find them in the Olympic village.

Kenteris and Thanou, the 100-meter silver medalist in Sydney, are due to remain in KAT hospital over the weekend, so the IOC delayed a Friday hearing in their case. They were in stable condition with cuts and bruises.

GYMNASTICS: Blaine Wilson will compete in all six events and anchor the American team on still rings in today's Olympic team qualifications. Reigning world champion Paul Hamm and Brett McClure, who was second at the national championships and Olympic Trials, also will do all six events. The top 24 gymnasts today advance to the all-around, with each country limited to two qualifiers.

• The lineup for the women's team competition is: Uneven bars - Mohini Bhardwaj, Terin Humphrey, Courtney McCool, Carly Patterson, Courtney Kupets; Balance beam - Bhardwaj, Kupets, Humphrey, McCool, Patterson; Floor exercise - Bhardwaj, Kupets, Humphrey, McCool, Patterson; Vault - McCool, Kupets, Patterson, Bhardwaj, Annia Hatch.

OPENING NIGHT: Not everyone who came to Greece wants to party from the start. Competition is looming, and about 1,000 of the 10,500 Olympic athletes in Athens skipped Friday night's opening ceremony.

In addition to 75,000 spectators at the ceremony, 4.5 billion people around the world were expected to watch it on television.

Olympics on TV today

NBC

• Noon-6 p.m. - swimming; diving; women's synchronized springboard gold-medal final (LIVE); gymnastics, men's competition; women's volleyball, United States vs. China; beach volleyball, U.S. women's match.

• 8 p.m.-midnight - men's gymnastics; swimming, gold-medal finals: men's 400 individual medley, men's 400m freestyle, women's 400m individual medley, women's 4x100m freestyle relay; diving, men's synchronized platform gold-medal final; cycling, men's road race.

Note - also, swimming semifinals: men's 100m breaststroke, women's 100m butterfly.

• 12:30-2 a.m. - beach volleyball, U.S. men's match.

• 2-6 a.m. - Prime-time replay.

MSNBC

• 5-8 p.m. - boxing.

CNBC

• 2 a.m.- 4 p.m. - women's basketball, United States vs. New Zealand (LIVE); women's soccer, United States vs. Brazil (LIVE); rowing, men's & women's competition (LIVE); men's soccer, Argentina vs. Tunisia (LIVE); softball, United States vs. Italy (LIVE); weightlifting, women's flyweight gold-medal final; volleyball, Brazil vs. Japan; shooting, women's air rifle gold-medal final; fencing, men's individual sabre gold-medal final.

BRAVO

• 5-8 p.m. - badminton; table tennis; women's field hockey, Australia vs. Germany.

• Midnight-1 a.m. - sailing;

judo, men's 60kg and women's 48kg gold-medal finals.

What to watch

Competition begins today in 21 sports. The women's 10-meter air rifle winner will be awarded the first gold medal of the Games. Here is a look at what to watch today:

• Michael Phelps is going for the gold - eight of 'em, it appears. Jenny Thompson already owns that many, across three Olympics, along with a silver and a bronze.

The alpha and omega of the U.S. swim team are the main attractions today on the first full day of competition in Greece. But there's action at venues across Athens in other sports, from badminton to basketball to boxing.

And much of it will air - although not much of it live - on NBC and its five cable affiliates, which plan to pump out 41 1/2 hours of coverage altogether on the day after the Athens Opening Ceremony.

• The men's gymnastics team, led by reigning world all-around champion Paul Hamm, Brett McClure and comebacking Blaine Wilson, will share NBC's prime time with the swimmers. The U.S. squad competes in the Olympic team qualifications, and it's expected to challenge China and Japan for the gold - a medal the Americans last captured 20 years ago in Los Angeles.

But the main focus will be on the four races at the pool, where Phelps brings his pursuit of Mark Spitz's gold standard of seven medals in a single Olympics.

• Elsewhere, medals are expected in cycling, diving, fencing, judo, shooting and weightlifting, as many of NBC's 103 commentators hit the airwaves from Athens for the first time.




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