OMAHA, Neb. — Eight was enough for Michael Phelps in Beijing.
The world’s greatest swimmer dropped one of his eight Olympic events on Monday, leaving him with seven at the London Games. That means the 14-time gold medalist won’t equal the record eight golds he won four years ago.
And Phelps is just fine with that.
“Four years ago, we were trying to literally do everything,” he said. “That was what we wanted to do but at this point, it’s let’s go out, let’s have some fun, let’s relax a little bit.”
Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, announced Monday that Phelps was scratching the 200-meter freestyle.
Phelps qualified in five individual events for London and is expected to swim all three relays. But, on Bowman’s recommendation, he will focus on the 200 and 400 individual medley and the 100 and 200 butterfly.
“This is an event program that I’m very confident that I can do and do better than I did here,” he said, referring to his results in Omaha.
Bowman said his main concern was Phelps being fresh for the 400 freestyle relay. While the U.S. has traditionally dominated that event, Australia is favored in London.
The relay final is on the same day as the preliminaries and semifinals of the 200 freestyle.
“The 400 free relay is going to be harder than it was last time,” Phelps said. “It just allows me to put my energy elsewhere instead of trying to control it for another three races.”
Phelps has to swim preliminaries, semifinals and finals in the 200 IM, and the 100 and 200 butterfly. The grueling 400 IM, which opens the swimming competition on July 28, has prelims and finals.
Phelps hasn’t adhered to the training schedule he was on for years leading up to Beijing. He took time off and showed little interest in the grind that prepared him to win eight events.
“No one should be expected to do that twice,” Bowman said of the program Phelps swam in Beijing. “Once was more than enough.”
Eventually, Phelps recommitted to coming to practice and doing the work.
He and Bowman viewed the eight-day trials as a barometer for how Phelps’ body would handle the busy schedule.
“We were, I guess, pretty happy with it,” Phelps said. “I was able to swim some pretty good times and not really feel great, but over the next couple of weeks that’s something that we’re going to improve on and work on.”
With Phelps dropping the 200 free, Ricky Berens moved up to claim an individual spot on the Olympic team for the first time. He was already scheduled to swim the 400 and 800 free relays.
“Dream come true!” Berens tweeted.
Dropping the 200 free also removes one of Phelps’ showdowns with American rival Ryan Lochte, the defending world champion. They will now face each other in just the two individual medleys.
“It gives me a day off for recovery after the (400) IM,” Phelps said. ‘It’s something that’s needed. Swimming that many times is brutal and there’s no need to put myself through that.”
Phelps had vowed to drop the grueling 400 IM after Beijing, but he put it back on his program earlier this year. Bowman wanted him to swim that event because it’s on the first day of the Olympic program, which made it more appealing than the 200 free even though Phelps won that event at the trials and finished second behind Lochte in the 400 IM.
“Ryan did shut it down the last 15 meters of the race and it was fairly obvious,” Phelps said. “I know it’s going to be challenging, but I’ve always stepped up to challenges and I love challenges. Looking forward to that one and it’s going to be the first one of the meet.”
Phelps is giving up the chance to defend his 200 free Olympic title and regain the world record that Germany’s Paul Biedermann set at the 2009 world championships wearing one of the high-tech bodysuits that are now banned. Phelps will still have a chance to three-peat in his other four individual races. No swimmer has ever won the same event in three straight Olympics.
Phelps confirmed that he will retire after his last swim in London.
“I won’t be coming back,” he said. “Put it on record.”