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How Many Medals Will Michael Phelps Win This Time?

Posted by T.K. Hann on 7/24/2012 7:01:52 PM

The poster boy of the Summer Olympics is undoubtedly Michael Phelps, who will be competing in his final international competition before retiring at the tender age of 27. His eight gold medals in the 2008 games set a record for most gold medals in a single games, and his current medal count of 16 sits behind only one person in the record books. He needs just three more to pass Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina to become the all-time winner of the most medals in Olympic history.

Not bad for a guy who took up swimming because people made fun of his big ears.

Phelps has already stated that he won’t swim in eight events this year even though he qualified for that many at the national trials. Dropping the 200m freestyle from his schedule in London, Phelps will swim in 7 total events in the Olympics and could actually win 10 medals if he runs the entire program including relays.

That sounds like a lot of events in a tight window for an athlete who is seemingly trying to lessen his workload in London. So don’t bother reaching for the skies when it comes to Phelps winning 10 medals. Clinching seven gold medals is well within reach for the 6-foot-4 swimmer, but he has stiff competition form a fellow countryman.

And that man is named Ryan Lochte, another 27-year old American who is out to prove that he is the best swimmer in the world. Lochte already owns victories over Phelps in the 2011 World Aquatics Championships, where he claimed five gold medals, including one as the come-from-behind anchor against France in the 4x200m freestyle.

Their storied rivalry has already taken on a life of its own, with many people ready to announce Lochte as the “next Phelps” even though Phelps hasn’t even retired yet or renounced his position as the top…uh…fish? Shark? Lobster bisque?

Lochte and Phelps will clash in head-to-head battles throughout the games and none will be as nasty as the 200m and 400m individual medleys. The scheduling works against Lochte since the 200m backstroke – an event Lochte is the world record holder in – is just thirty minutes before the 200m IM race. Phelps is not truly great at the longer distances, and Lochte is clearly better in both races. The schedule just kills his chances of keeping pace with Phelps in the 200m medley.

The relays offer another big concern, especially with Australia and France chopping at the bit to avenge their defeats at the previous games and world championships. Phelps will swim in three relay events, and only the 4x200m freestyle is really a lock for the United States.

Medalling for Phelps will be the easy part, but if you’re betting on how many gold medals Michael Phelps will win at the Olympics, then all of the challenges listed above are working against him. I’d peg his number at 4 gold medals, in the 200IM, 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly and the 4x200m freestyle. Anything beyond that and he’ll have to surpass Australia and his biggest rival in the pool.

Clearly, Phelps was the star along with Usain Bolt in Beijing. When the Summer Games shift to London, he’ll have to battle long and hard to hold on to the title of world’s fastest swimmer just like the world’s fastest man on land. This isn’t an impossible feat for Phelps, who has achieved the impossible before in this very setting, but the odds are going to be against him winning more than four gold medals.

Which, again, is nothing to shake a wet stick at.

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