All eyes set on Phelps at swimming worlds

Swim fans hoping to see Michael Phelps attempt another unprecedented podium haul will have to set their sights a little lower.

Canada's Cochrane gold-medal threat in 1,500 freestyle

American Michael Phelps set a new world record in the 100-metre butterfly at the recently completed U.S. trials. ((Darron Cummings/Associated Press))
Swim fans hoping to see Michael Phelps attempt another unprecedented podium haul will have to set their sights a little lower.

The American star, who broke compatriot Mark Spitz's 36-year-old mark by winning a remarkable eight gold medals during last year's Beijing Olympics, doesn't plan the same ambitious run at the world aquatics championships in Rome.

Still, there is enough of Phelps to go around.

"Don't expect to see another Beijing, but expect a dominant performance nonetheless," CBC Sports swim analyst Byron MacDonald told

The swimming competition, beginning Sunday, July 26, will see Phelps only take part in individual events — 100 and 200-metre butterfly and 200 freestyle — where he's heavily favoured.

Dubbed the Baltimore bullet, Phelps will also compete in the all three relay events — 4x100 and 4x200 freestyle, along with the 4x100 medley relay — giving him the opportunity at yet another gold rush.

After serving a three-month suspension following the publication of a picture apparently showing Phelps using marijuana, the Olympic champion was understandably rusty in losing some races during his return in May, including the 100 freestyle to Canadian Brent Hayden last month.

Phelps, however, came back with a vengeance in the recently completely U.S. trials by smashing the 100 butterfly world record (50.22 seconds) set by fellow American Ian Crocker (50.40) six years ago.

"He's basically staying with the three races that are gimmes," said MacDonald. "He's the world-record holder in the 100 butterfly, has owned the 200 butterfly for years and there really hasn't been anybody close to him in the 200 freestyle."

There is one caveat that MacDonald feels could be an issue for Phelps, who still sports Speedo's Lazer swimsuit.

An Italian manufacturing company designed a suit made completely out of polyurethane, a rubberized material approved by swimming's governing body FINA in January.

Phelps is expected to stay with Speedo, which has developed a similar suit but has yet to launch its new product.

"If Phelps stays with the Speedo, his 100 bufferfly competitors like [Serbian Milorad] Cavic will be gaining three to five/10ths of a second on him, and that may be the difference between the gold and silver."

Canada's great hope

Victoria's Ryan Cochrane, right, galvanized the entire Canadian program with a surprising Olympic bronze medal in Beijing. ((Mark Baker/Associated Press))
As for the Canadian men, their hope for gold rests on the shoulders of Victoria's Ryan Cochrane, who galvanized the entire program with a surprising Olympic bronze medal in the 1,500 freestyle.

With Canada staring at a second consecutive Olympic Games without a medal, Cochrane ended the drought in the pool with a stellar performance in the final individual swim competition of Games.

"It was an incredible shot in the arm going forward," explained MacDonald. "It meant that there was no need to use excuses. We accomplished our goal, we got a medal and we're right back where we were in [past] years."

Cochrane's achievement has given him so much confidence that the B.C. native firmly believes he can challenge Olympic champion and Tunisian Oussama Mellouli for gold in Rome.

"That's his goal, and he's a pretty committed guy," said MacDonald. "I think it will come down to Ryan and [Mellouli]. The Tunisian is going to be very hard to beat. He's kept it up after the Olympics where Ryan took a bit of a break after the Olympics and he's just now rounding into form."

Tough challenge for the Champ

Canadian and defending world champion Brent Hayden failed to qualify for 100-metre final at last year's Olympic Games. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))
Hayden, meanwhile, is the defending co-world champion in the 100 freestyle, but duplicating that feat will be a tall order. The Mission, B.C., swimmer failed to qualify for the final in Beijing, and Frenchmen Frederick Bousquet and Alain Bernard are expected to walk away with the top two spots.

Although the odds are stacked, MacDonald isn't ruling out a bronze medal for Hayden.

"The French boys are really dominating right now," he said. "After that it is open. There will be three to four in the hunt for the bronze medal, and Hayden will be one of them."