5 August 2008 :Two American men go head to head in a race for Olympic swimming history in Beijing – one from the past and one from the present. Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals at the 1972 Games, one of the most famous of all Olympic achievements, is under threat from Michael Phelps, the 23-year-old who came close to Spitz’s record in Athens four years ago when he won six gold and two bronze medals.
All-time medal record challenged
Phelps will contest the 200 & 400 metres individual medleys, the 100 and 200m butterfly and the 200m freestyle as well as three relays. Spitz’s gold medals in Munich came in the 100 and 200m freestyle, the 100 and 200m butterfly and the three relays, with world record times set in every final. Even if Phelps fails to win the most gold medals at one Olympic Games, he seems set to smash the all-time record for most Olympic golds overall, currently held jointly by Spitz (who won two in Mexico City in 1968), fellow American Carl Lewis and Finland’s Paavo Nurmi with nine apiece.
PHELPSMichael Michael PHELPS
SPITZMark Mark SPITZ
And what about Katie Hoff?
Amazingly, Phelps may not be the only American attempting to win eight swimming gold medals. Depending on relay selection, Katie Hoff, like Phelps a member of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, will attempt the same feat and she is set to become the first woman since the legendary Australian Shane Gould in 1972 to compete in five individual events. Gould, incidentally, was just 15 years old at the time!
GOULDShane Shane GOULD
Another woman in the spotlight will be 41-year-old Dara Torres, participating in her fifth Games, this time as a mother. Torres, who competes in the 50m freestyle, has already won nine Olympic medals, starting with a relay gold in 1984 in Los Angeles and most recently won four medals in at the 2000 Sydney Games… following a seven-year retirement.
Sulliva, Coventry, Manaudou and others
Swimmers from outside the US with the best chances of gold include Australia’s Eamon Sullivan, the current world 50m freestyle record-holder and therefore the fastest swimmer in the world. Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry and France’s Laure Manaudou, who both won gold, silver and bronze in Athens, will race in four and five events respectively while another gold medallist from Athens, Poland’s Otylia Jedrzejczak, will also figure in the 100 and 200m butterfly.