Sports

He's the one to beat

Swimming greats Spitz and Thorpe tip Phelps to stamp his mark in Rio

US swimming great Mark Spitz has backed Michael Phelps to set the Rio Olympics alight and win "several" gold medals in what is likely to be his Olympic swansong.

Spitz, whose record of seven gold medals at a single Olympics was broken by Phelps' eight in 2008, said he expected the 31-year-old to make light of his advancing age in the Rio de Janeiro pool.

"I think so. Several," Spitz told AFP in Rio, when asked if he thought Phelps would win gold medals at this Olympics.

Phelps won the 100m and 200m butterfly and 200m medley at last month's US trials, but not with the sort of sizzling times that would make the rest of the world sit up and take notice.

But Spitz said Phelps was not properly rested for the trials, and said the extra incentive of swimming his final Games ensured that the record 22-time Olympic medallist would remain a force to be reckoned with.

"I think Michael is going to do great," said the 66-year-old.

"I think that he was not fully rested at the Olympic trial, I think that this is his swansong if you may and he's going to make every single stroke count.

I think that this is his swansong if you may and he’s going to make every single stroke count.

— Mark Spitz (above) on Michael Phelps.

"I would never bet against him and I hope that he'll have a positive result. If he makes the finals, he's the one to beat."

While Phelps' feats mean he's never out of the spotlight, Katie Ledecky may be the big star of the US team which is expected to dominate the pool once again.

"I think we're going to do really well," said Spitz.

"The women are going to do well with Katie Ledecky, everybody's got their hopes pinned on that she'll win the 200, 400 and 800 free.

"She's got the fastest times in the world right now and she's the person to beat. She's going to set the standard right now for the women's swimming.

"But there's a lot of great swimmers coming from South Africa, Germany, Japan, Australia."

Spitz's phenomenal haul of seven gold medals at the Munich 1972 Olympics was considered unbeatable until Phelps came along 36 years later.

But Spitz said he had never fully appreciated the size of his own achievement until Phelps went one better in the Beijing Water Cube.

"Somebody asked me the other day, 'When did you realise you were so great?'. I said, 'The day Michael Phelps broke my record'," Spitz said.

Spitz is not the only one who thinks Phelps will stamp his mark in Rio.

Australian swimming legend Ian Thorpe has also backed his former rival to become the first swimmer to win the same event at four consecutive Olympics in Rio.

Thorpe is Australia's most successful Olympian with five gold medals, including three at the Sydney 2000 Games.

If Phelps wins gold in both the 100m fly and 200m IM, he will join Al Oerter (discus) and Carl Lewis (long jump) as the only athletes to have achieved the feat.

"Wishing 'my boy' the best for his 5th Olympics," Thorpe wrote on Instagram, referring to Phelps.

"I can't wait to see him make history again at these Games. Watch out for him in the 100 Fly and 200 IM! He can and will become the first athlete in swimming to win the same event in 4 consecutive Olympics."

Phelps left the Maracana stadium early yesterday morning (Singapore time) after carrying the US flag at the Olympic Games opening ceremony.

He returned to the Olympic village ahead of his teammates to prepare for the swimming programme, which started yesterday.

It was the first time Phelps has participated in an Olympic opening ceremony.

He has avoided taking part at previous Games to focus on his events, which usually begin the next day.

Phelps was just the second swimmer to carry the US flag, joining four-time Olympic medalist Gary Hall, who was given the honour at the Montreal Games in 1976.

- Wire Services.

'He's a brave boy'

Olympic champion Chad le Clos will be swimming for "other reasons" in Rio after his parents were diagnosed with cancer, according to South Africa coach Graham Hill.

Le Clos (above) has said he will not speak to the media in the build-up to the defence of his Olympic 200 metres butterfly title.

But Hill has paid credit to the swimmer's courage after father Bert was found to have prostate cancer and mother Geraldine underwent a double mastectomy, predicting that the heartache could drive le Clos on.

"He's going to be swimming for other reasons now and maybe that will help him," Hill said at the Rio Olympic pool.

The 24-year-old le Clos, who also won silver in the 100m butterfly at the 2012 London Olympics, released a statement last month, saying: "It has not been an easy time, but I am training hard for Rio.

"More than anything else, I want them to win their battles. I also hope that they will be in Rio."

Father Bert melted hearts worldwide four years ago when television images showed him celebrating Chad's victory exuberantly.

EMOTIONAL

Both parents are regularly seen in the crowd cheering their son, who has also won three world titles and collected seven gold medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

"We've had a bumpy road the last couple of months," said Hill.

"But we were aware of the problems before Chad put out the release, so we knew everything about it.

"I've been his coach for 16 years and he's basically like family to me.

"We're pretty close and everything's good with him. He's a tough boy, a brave boy, and he's in a good place."

South Africa will bank on le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh, the Olympic 100m breaststroke champion, to deliver in Rio, although van der Burgh will expect fierce pressure from Britain's world champion Adam Peaty.

"It's the same two big boys," said Hill, referring to South Africa's only two swimming medallists in London.

"We'll look to the big swims from them and, hopefully, they can carry the youngsters through and maybe we'll have an outside shot in one of our relays.

"We don't like to set a target, a medal count. But we'd obviously like to come away with one better than we did in London." - AFP.

Olympics