On Saturday morning at the London Aquatics Centre, Michael Phelps barely squeaked into the final of the 400m IM by earning the eighth and last spot. Making the scenario all the more dramatic, Phelps was only 0.07 ahead of Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh, who he needed to come from behind to out-touch on the final 100m meters of their preliminary heat.
So the question now is why did we see such a sub-par performance out of the defending Olympic champion and current world record holder in the event? Here are the three most likely possibilities:
• Phelps took the race out too fast. His first 100m was almost an entire second faster than he was at the U.S. Olympic Trials a month ago, but inversely his last 100m was about two and a half seconds slower. Going out slightly too fast can cause a swimmer to pay exponentially on the back end.
• Phelps got caught up in a game of “cat and mouse.” It looked like Phelps was attempting to manage Cseh, who was directly next to him, rather than swim his own race. This could be the factor that bit him, because both swimmers were actually moving a bit slower than either anticipated. Keep in mind Cseh is the reigning Olympic silver medalist, so him missing the final is a big deal.
• Phelps’ lack of preparation caught up with him.He has only been training for this race for the past few months after taking a three year hiatus. It’s possible that after a full program at U.S. Trials a month ago, doing the 400m IM again in London is overload for Phelps.
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