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2008 Summer Olympic Games Preview - Swimming

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The United States has dominated swimming at the Olympics nearly every time it has participated, and 2008 should be no different. There are plenty of storylines surrounding the American team in Beijing, including Michael Phelps' quest for glory at a single-Olympic record of gold medals, and the inspiration of 41-year-old Dara Torres participating in her fifth Summer Games, this time as a mother.

Four years ago the U.S. won 28 medals, including 12 gold. Six of them came from Phelps, who barely failed in his attempt to tie Mark Spitz's record of seven golds at one Olympics. Phelps also had two bronze in Athens. Spitz had seven at the 1972 Munich Games, and believes Phelps can not only smash world marks in China, but can do it in dominating fashion.

"This is going to be history," Spitz said at July's Olympic swimming trials. "He's going to do it with what we say is a little schooling to the rest of the world. It's going to be exciting for those who are going to see it in person and for those who will watch it on TV."

The 23-year-old Phelps, who broke his wrist last fall, won five titles at the U.S. trials in July and will compete in the 200 and 400-meter individual medleys, the 200-meter freestyle, the 100 and 200-meter butterfly, and the 800-meter relay. Four years ago he captured the 200m butterfly, 200m and 400m individual medleys, and a pair of relay golds.

"I think I'm more relaxed than I was four years ago," Phelps said. "That's good for me. The more relaxed I am I think the better I am. It's going to be a fun event for me to go out and have another chance to step up on the Olympic level."

Also on the men's side for the U.S., Ryan Lochte, who won two medals in Athens, will race in three events. as will Jason Lezak. Peter Vanderkaay will be in four races.

Garrett Weber-Gale, winner of the 50 and 100 meter freestyle at the trials, will be up against stiff international competition in Beijing.

It's been an incredible Olympic run for Torres, winner of nine medals, starting with a relay gold in 1984 in her current home city of Los Angeles, and most recently capturing four medals in 2000 -- this after coming out of a seven-year retirement.

Not only that, but last November Torres had surgery to remove a bone spur responsible for a partial rotator cuff tear in her right shoulder. She also had surgery on her knee in January.

Torres will race in the 50-meter freestyle, choosing to drop the 100 from her Olympic program. She'll also be up probably for a relay.

"It's sort of bittersweet for me because I made my fifth Olympic team, but I'm going to be away from my daughter for a month and that's going to be real hard emotionally," Torres said. "I'm happy I'm going to Beijing."

Also on the women's side, American Katie Hoff has qualified for six events and will try for a record of her own in Beijing. The record for most medals won by a U.S. woman's swimmer at a single Olympics is five - by Shirley Babashoff in 1976, Torres in 2000 and Natalie Coughlin in 2004.

Amanda Beard is headed to her fourth Olympics and will be in the 200-meter breaststroke. The gold medalist at this event at the 2004 Summer Games, the 26-year-old Beard has already won three medals in the 200 breaststroke, also donning a silver in 1996 and bronze in 2000.

Coughlin will try to follow her amazing success from four years ago as she'll be in the pool for the 100-meter backstroke, 200 IM, 100 free and 400m relay.

The U.S. has dominated swimming, winning 458 total medals from the sport, including 202 gold. That is nearly three times the amount of the second-place country - Australia with 157.

The interesting part of the swimming program is the finals have been moved to the morning in Beijing to accommodate NBC's broadcast so they can be televised live during primetime in the U.S. That means the heats will take place at night, something swimmers will have to adjust to instead of the normal schedule of heats in the morning and finals at night.

Internationally, the men's field is highlighted by Australian Eamon Sullivan, who is the current world record-holder and has the distinction of the fastest swimmer in the world, clocking the 50 in 21.28 seconds. Frenchmen Alain Bernard and Amaury Leveaux are also expected to make a push for a medal in the 50.

Bernard, who looks more like a bodybuilder than a swimmer, broke three world records at the 2008 European Championships and will race in the 50, 100 and also in the 400-meter relay. Also contending in the 50 and 100 will be Sweden's Stefan Nystrand, who

Americans will also have to deal the "The Machine" as in Aussie Grant Hackett, a five-time medal winner at the Olympics. The 28-year-old is known as one of the greatest distance swimmers in history and will race in the 200m free, 400m free and 1500m free. He is the defending 1500m free champion at the Summer Games.

Kosuke Kitajima is a breaststroke specialist, having won the 100m and 200m versions in Athens. Australia's top breaststroker is Brenton Rickard.

Australian Andrew Lauterstein could be a strong contender for Phelps in the 100m fly, while Italian Filippo Magnini tries for glory in the 50 and 100m free events.

Pieter van den Hoogenband, known by some as "The Flying Dutchman", won the 100m and 200m events in Sydney eight years ago and now he has his sights set on Beijing. This will be his fourth Olympics.

China has never won a swimming medal at the Olympics, but Wu Peng will try to change that when he races against Phelps in the 100 and 200m fly. China's top male freestyler is Zhang Lin, who is entered in the 200 and 400 free, along with the 1500 free.

Missing from these Games will be Australian Ian Thorpe, who announced his retirement nearly two years ago. Thorpe won four medals in Athens and would've been a top contender for Phelps.

Australians are also strong among the women. Look out for Libby Trickett, who is entered in five events, including the 100 and 200 free, and the 100 fly. Trickett has won four individual gold medals from World Championships and currently holds five world records. Also, Aussie Bronte Barratt is a darkhorse in the 200 and 400 free. Stephanie Rice should put a charge into the 200 and 400 IMs, while Leisel Jones is head of the class in the breastroke as a world record holder. Jessicah Schipper will be one to watch in the 100 and 200 fly.

Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry won three medals in Athens and will head to Beijing for the 100 and 200 backstrokes, along with the 200 and 400 IMs and is a threat to medal in all events.

Poland's Otylia Jedrzejczak is a top contender in the 100 and 200 fly events. She won the 200 fly in Athens.

France's Laure Manaudou, who won a gold, silver and bronze medal in Athens, will compete in five races, including the 100 and 200m backstrokes.

07/17 13:15:13 ET


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