- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

When they convened the completed U.S. Olympic swimming team earlier this month in Palo Alto, Calif., men’s coach Eddie Reese and women’s coach Jack Bauerle had the same message.

“Congratulations on making the team - but improve,” Bauerle recalled.

To that end, the swimmers have trained together on the campus of Stanford University, creating a competitive environment that has produced the desired results - faster times and personal bests.

“We’ve had a terrific camp,” USA Swimming general manager Mark Schubert said during a conference call Wednesday. “We’ve had a lot of amazing head-to-head races with athletes in the same events competing against each other and some with athletes who don’t swim the same events.”

The team has trained in California since the Olympic trials ended July 6 in Omaha, Neb. Later this week, they travel to Singapore to continue preparations before going to Beijing. The swimming competition is during the first week of the games.

The U.S. team in general and Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff in particular sent a message to their international competitors during the trials with across-the-board authoritative performances. Swimmers set nine world records during the competition, including two by Phelps in the 200 and 400 individual medley.

The men’s team features veterans like Phelps, Ian Crocker (100 butterfly), Brendan Hansen (100 breaststroke) and Jason Lezak (100 freestyle) and newcomers like Matt Grevers (100 backstroke), Garrett Weber-Gale (50 and 100 free) and Ben Wildman-Tobriner (50 free).

The women’s team has a similar mix of experience and first-timers - the veterans are 41-year old Dara Torres (50 free), Amanda Beard (200 breaststroke) and Natalie Coughlin (three events), and the newcomers are 15-year old Elizabeth Beisel (200 back, 400 IM), Elaine Breeden (100 and 200 butterfly) and Great Falls’ Kate Ziegler (400 and 800 free).

Schubert said the individuals from various swimming clubs have made a seamless transition to becoming one team.

“It’s amazing how the newcomers, people who aren’t as experienced, have been quickly accepted,” he said. “We have such positive leadership from our older athletes that it makes it easier on the coaching staff.”

Throw in the fact that the swimmers have made the Olympic team - and aren’t competing against each other for a coveted spot - and that lessens any kind of tension.

“Before they get to the Olympic team, they have to get through trials, and they’re only focused on themselves,” said Reese, also the U.S. coach in 1992 and 2004. “After that, they’re all focused on the Olympics, and we have this tremendous tradition of going to the Olympics and being, if not the dominating force, one of the dominating forces. Now they’re all focused on doing well and helping each other. That leads to a fast connection for a team.”

The United States won 12 golds among 28 medals at the Athens Games and is a decent bet to outswim the Australians to improve that total in China.

A key to exceeding a dozen golds are the relays. The United States won three of the six in Athens. The only business Reese and Bauerle need to figure out is who will swim the relays. There are six eligible swimmers for each.

On the men’s side, Reese revealed his plan: Qualifiers 3-6 in the 100- and 200-meter freestyles from trials will swim the preliminaries in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays. Two of those swimmers will join the top two finishers in the final.

“Four years ago, the relay selection was very tough.” Resse said. “This year, it’s going to be a little bit easier. We’re going to use the fastest guys.”

In other developments at the training camp:

cReese said Eric Shanteau has been cleared to travel to Singapore and compete in the Olympics in the 200-meter breaststroke. Shanteau, 24, was diagnosed with testicular cancer before the trials and revealed the illness after making the team. Shanteau has weekly blood work and a biweekly CT scan.

“Eric has handled the whole situation better than our coaching staff has because we were more worried than he was,” Reese said. “He’s further away from the discovery of his cancer, and the heat of the moment, so to speak, has been diminished, so he’s focused more on his swimming than ever before.”

cEmily Silver, a candidate to swim on the 4x100 relay team, has returned to training after breaking two fingers when she hit the wall in the 50-meter freestyle semifinals at trials.

cLast year, USA Swimming ordered 50 masks for its athletes to wear in Beijing if the air quality was poor. The swimming competition will be held indoors.

“We’ll be prepared for any scenario,” Schubert said. “[The pollution] is something we need to keep an eye on and specifically with our asthmatics. If they show any symptoms, we’ll deal with it.”

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