Michael Phelps is predicting the long world-record drought in swimming will come to an end this month at the world championships in Shanghai, China.
And the 26-year-old is best qualified to know. Phelps has dominated swimming recently, winning eight of his 14 Olympic gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, and is competing in up to seven events at the world championships.
Swimming's world-record drought has reached 18 months in the Olympic-size 50-metre pool since the ban on rubberized suits at the beginning of 2010.
"People just want it more now. We're going to see faster swimming than we've really ever seen," Phelps said in an interview Friday at Southport on Australia's Gold Coast, where the U.S. team is preparing for the championships. "There are going to be a lot faster swims than even the Olympics or the world swimming championships in '09 — even with the 'suits' we have now."
An incredible 43 world records were set at the worlds in Rome two years ago, including Phelps' marks in the butterfly and 400-metre medley. Overall between 2008 and 2009 — the rubberized suit era — there were more than 200 records set over long- and short-course.
Many swimmers and coaches thought after the suits were banned last year that it would take a decade before the records started tumbling again. Men are now only allowed to wear textile suits from the waist to the knees and women are restricted to suits that stretch from the shoulders to the knees.
More attention to details
Phelps said swimmers were paying more attention to details and were getting into better physical shape now.
"You see people doing stuff now both in and out of the pool that are allowing them — and preparing themselves better — to work on the small things that really end up making a big difference," he said.
"There are a lot of people swimming faster now than they did in the suit. A lot of newer names that are swimming fast."
Phelps said it wasn't a matter of if but which records were broken.
He holds the records in the 100- and 200-metre butterfly, and the 400 individual medley. He's swimming the 100 and 200 fly, the 200 medley and the 200 freestyle in Shanghai, where the swimming program gets underway on July 24.
Phelps is coming off eight months of intensive training which followed about 18 months when he was "in a funk," and not overly dedicated to training. So he's not sure if he'll be setting any new marks.
"I would love to break a world record. I would love to do a best time," he said. "It's time to get up and race now. It's like the old feeling I used to get leading up to meets — just being excited to get in the water and race."
Phelps had the aura of invincibility during his dominating run, but let it slip because he said he went through a stage when he couldn't be bothered with training.
Last month at Santa Clara, he lost for the third straight time in one of his signature events, finishing one-hundredth of a second behind Australia's Nick D'Arcy in the 200-metre butterfly. That came on top of two losses to China's Wu Peng after almost nine years without losing a 200 fly.
"There are always things that I want to do and hold. One of the things I wanted to hold was to not lose a 200 fly for the rest of my career," he said. "We all know this year that hasn't really gone as planned.
"It shows everybody is human. It came pretty hard and it didn't feel very good," he added. "It's all going to come back if I do what I need to do in the pool. You guys know, I don't like to lose."
That's the motivation also for U.S. teammate Ryan Lochte, who excelled during Phelps' downtime and was voted swimmer of 2010 in a season that included two short-course world records.
Lochte is also confident world records will fall in Shanghai, even if many swimmers are more focused on the event as a stepping stone in training for the 2012 Olympics than a world championship.
"A lot of people believed that the world records weren't ever going to fall again … [but] it doesn't matter what kind of suit you're in," Lochte said. "That's why we have records -- they're meant to get broken. I can see definitely a couple of world records going down.
"I'm not really worried about the time or the world record. I'm just going to go out there and try to win."
Phelps said he was in much better shape than he was last year and was starting to get the kind of feeling back that he had before the Beijing Olympics and 2009 world championships.
"This is like a pre-Olympic meet. Really shows you how everybody else is preparing and what you need to do," he said. "I'm excited. Looking forward to seeing how everything is going to go. This is going to be the start for next year. That's something that I'm ready for."