Michael Phelps, left, celebrates with his mother Debbie, center, and sister Hilary after the medal ceremony for the men’s 200-meter individual medley at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Saturday, June 30, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
By Julian Linden
OMAHA, Nebraska, July 2 (Reuters) – Michael Phelps has dropped the 200 meters freestyle from his schedule for next month’s London Olympics, leaving him with seven events for his Games swansong.
The American qualified for eight events at the U.S. Trials, the same number he swam at Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, but will drop the 200m freestyle to focus on the relays.
“Michael Phelps will be removing the individual 200 freestyle from his Olympic program. This will give him a full slate of seven events,” his coach Bob Bowman said on his Twitter account on Monday.
“This change will allow him to focus more energy on relays for Team USA.”
Phelps triumphed in the 200m freestyle in the Beijing Games when he won an unprecedented eight gold medals. But he was beaten in the four-lap race at the last two world championships.
The 27-year-old, who won the 200 at the Olympic trials but in a relatively slow time of one minute of 45.70, 3.70 outside the world record, will still swim in the 100 and 200 butterfly, the 200 and 400 individual medleys and three relays.
“It makes sense,” Bowman told reporters. “No-one should be expected to do that twice. Once was enough.”
Phelps already holds the record for the most gold medals at a single Olympics (eight) and overall total (14) but there are still significant records within his reach.
He needs just three more medals of any color in London to surpass the overall mark of 18 held by former Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
If he is on the podium in each of his four individual events he will equal Latynina’s record of 14 individual medals.
If Phelps wins gold in any of his individual races he will become the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three Olympics.
His withdrawal from the 200 freestyle leaves Ryan Lochte as the favorite to win gold.
Lochte beat Phelps in the 200 freestyle final at last year’s world championships in Shanghai and finished a close second to Phelps at the U.S. trials.
U.S. head coach Gregg Troy said Ricky Berens, who finished third in the 200 freestyle at the U.S. trials, would replace Phelps in London.
Phelps has struggled for motivation since Beijing and briefly toyed with the idea of quitting after losing two of his five world records.
He won five gold medals at the 2009 world championships in Rome, losing the 200 freestyle world record to Germany’s Paul Biedermann and the 200 medley record to Lochte, and four in Shanghai.
He would have been among the favourites to win in London but Bowman said the focus was on the relays, with Australia the clear favorites to win the 4x100m freestyle.
“We discussed this earlier in the week,” said Bowman. “Michael is fine with it,
“I think he could have been competitive again but it was really a program decision.
“It won’t be the number eight again.”