Eddie Reese

The team's the thing


BARCELONA -- The world knows Michael Phelps. It knows Ryan Lochte, who won his third straight men's world championships 200-meter individual medley here title here Thursday night at the Palau Sant Jordi. It knows teen sensations Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky. They each won more gold medals Thursday, too, swimming legs of the 4x200 freestyle relay.

No, Phelps isn't swimming here. Even so, this deep U.S. team is still -- with five days down, three days to go -- dominating the medals count at yet another world championships, and the story of how Jimmy Feigen won silver Thursday in the men's 100 free offers revealing insight into the American way.

Swimming - 15th FINA World Championships: Day Thirteen

The U.S. swim team has 18 medals in the pool, 20 overall. Swimming is by definition an individual sport. But at big meets, it is also -- and the Americans understand this better than anyone in the world -- a team event.

It sounds simple. But it's not.

It's not just that the Americans have considerable talent. Of course they do. But it runs far deeper than that.

It's about creating, and sustaining, a team culture that promotes and inspires best performance.

As Cate Campbell, the outstanding Australian swimmer put it in a news conference here before the meet got underway, "When you go away, the swim team becomes your family. Healthy family -- healthy swimming. I think that has been really important."

Consider the way the Americans talked about each other after Thursday's racing:

Ledecky swam her first-ever leg on a U.S. relay, leading off that 4x200 swim. When she touched, the Americans were in first. She said the experience was "awesome," adding, "It meant a lot to get up and race with three girls behind me," calling it "definitely the most fun I have ever had in a race."

Karlee Bispo, who swam third, after Shannon Vreeland, earned her leg -- her first-ever start in an international final -- after a solid preliminary swim.

Bispo said, "To be with three Olympians, and amazing people, and to be able to represent my country, and look back and hear the 'U-S-A' chant and wear our flag on our suit and cap -- to win the gold medal is something I will never forget. I was trying to hide back the tears hearing the national anthem."

Franklin, winner of the 200 free Wednesday, swam another outstanding 200 -- 1:54.27 -- to ensure the victory.

She said, "Being a part of a team is the most important part of swimming for me, which is different, because a lot of people think of it as an individual sport. But when you get out there and you have three people who are not only your teammates but your friends -- that you know are going to support you no matter what -- you just have this whole new energy about you.

"And you want to go out there and race harder than you have ever raced before."


"I think one of the reasons why Team USA is so dominant is because we're what I feel like is -- we're like the one team that comes together. It's not separate. It's not a men's team. It's not a women's team. We help each other out. The guys help the girls out. The girls help the guys out. I think that's why we're so dominant -- we push each other. That's what makes a team."

In a different team culture, it might have been easy for Feigen's performance Sunday night in the men's 4x100 relay to make for a longstanding disaster.

Instead, it now looks like the kind of thing that obviously not just kickstarted him here but might well galvanize him to and through both the world championships in Kazan, Russia, in 2015 and the Rio Summer Games in 2016.

Which, by the way, is just the way the U.S. coaches planned it all along.

It's called trust and faith in him, and each other. That's what families do.

The relay rewind: handed the lead, Feigen went a too-slow 48.23. The French won.

What happened next?

A little back story:

Feigen went to college at Texas, where he won the 50- and 100-yard free at the 2012 NCAAs under the direction of coaches Eddie Reese and Kris Kubik. At the Summer University Games in China in 2011, he won the 100-meter free. Last year in London, he swam in the prelims of the 4x100 free relay that would ultimately win a silver medal.

Feigen qualified for these 2013 worlds by finishing second at the U.S. nationals in the 100 free. In him, the U.S. coaches, led by men's head coach Bob Bowman, see enormous upside.

That's why they dropped him into the anchor slot Sunday night in the 4x100 relay. It was his first major-league performance.

He would say late Thursday, "I'm still kind of a rookie to the whole world-circuit thing. I got a little bit of rookie nerves when it came to that relay. I kind of felt like I let everybody down. So I felt like it was my duty at this point to step up and show I do belong, I do belong with these swimmers."

Feigen is now 23.

After the relay, one of the people he sought out is Jack Roach, the U.S. junior national team coach, who is here with the American staff. Feigen and Roach have a history. It goes back to when Feigen was 9, at the University of Texas swim camps, and Roach was a coach there.

For that matter, virtually every swimmer who has come up in the American program has a connection not just to -- but with -- Roach. Here's one of the main reasons why: "I never," he said of his current role, "consider myself more than a consultant."

In this context, that means this: Roach is keenly aware that when this meet ends, Feigen is heading back home. Yes, there's a mission now. But Feigen has relationships with his coaches back home, too. What do families do? They look after each other, even across the oceans.

Feigen initially brought up this concern to Roach: if I swim faster in the 100, will people think I didn't try in the relay?

"We got off that relatively quick," Roach said, adding it was important to recognize that of course American swimmers "do feel a relay position is an honor and they never want to drop the ball in that situation."

Then the talking got down to real strategy -- how to best prepare for the 100 itself. "The second thing we discussed," Roach said, "was how would Eddie and Kris help you strategize the race."

Roach added, "When I'm dealing with someone else's athlete, I think it's very important that I let them know that they know themselves better than I know them. I like to provide them with questions they can ask themselves."

There was some technical talk. But, really, as Roach said, at this level, the preparation is "all mental."

"Everyone," Roach said, "strives to be a champion. When you're a champion, you're worthy. Sometimes you're worthy and you aren't a champion. What do you learn from every experience to become a little more worthy so you can move into that championship state? So much of it is accountability to the athletes who are in front of you."

2013-08-01 20.51.20

Feigen's best 100 time before this meet in Barcelona: 48.24.

In Wednesday's semifinals, he went 48.07.

Then, in Thursday's final, 47.82.

Australia's James Magnussen -- out-touched by American Nathan Adrian by one-hundredth of a second last summer for the gold medal in London -- won the race, in 47.71.

Adrian took third, in 47.84.

The last time the U.S. men had won a world championships medal of any color in the 100 free? 2001, Anthony Ervin, gold.

For Magnussen -- who became the third Australian to win an individual discipline twice at the worlds, after Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett -- the win was about team and family as well: "We felt a little isolated last year. I felt like I had everyone's support this year. I felt like I was representing a team I was proud to represent this year, and that made my job a little easier."

For Feigen, too: "I started out a little shaky with this whole world championships thing but I think it's coming together in the end."

Finally, here's the reason Jack Roach is on staff in Barcelona, and is so integral to the American swim team's winning culture:

"I don't really feel like I can take much credit here," he said, and he's not being self-deprecatingly humble. He means it. "It's about the athletes Jimmy is surrounded with and the coaching staff back home and the support he gets."

As Ryan Lochte says -- jeah.


Team USA's "unbelievably encouraging" swim worlds

SHANGHAI -- As the race unfolded, it wasn't a question of whether Ryan Lochte would win the 400-meter individual medley. It was by how much. In 2011, he's just that much better than everyone else. After three of the four segments in the race, he was a stunning three seconds ahead of the other American in the race, Tyler Clary, who was in second place.

Lochte went on to win, in 4:07.13, with Clary  four seconds back, capping the final night of the 2011 swimming world championships, a night that not only saw a second world record -- China's Sun Yang, in the men's 1500 meters -- but also saw the American team again assert its dominance.

Remember former USA Track & Field chief executive Doug Logan, and his ambitious goal of seeing the American track team win 30 medals in London next year?

Here, the U.S. swim team won 29. That's seven better than it won at the 2009 world championships in Rome.

In Beijing, at the 2008 Games, the U.S. swim team won 31 medals, 12 gold. The track team may still get the love from the traditionalists but the plain, hard fact is that it's the swim team that carries the U.S. medals count. It did in Beijing and it's all but sure to do so in London, too.

In a twist, the American dominance in Shanghai can be attributed in large measure to the American women, who came on strong across the board, and in particular to the emergence of 16-year-old Missy Franklin.

In Rome, the American women took home only eight medals -- two gold, three silver, three bronze.

Here: 13 total -- eight gold, two silver, three bronze.

With Franklin yelling, "Let's go, USA!" in the stands, Jessica Hardy won gold Sunday night in the 50 breaststroke, a poignant victory after her suspension for inadvertently ingesting a contaminated supplement, with Rebecca Soni -- who earlier had won the 100 and 200 breaststroke races -- taking third. Then Elisabeth Beisel won the women's 400 IM.

"It was great by [Saturday] night and just got greater tonight," the U.S. women's head coach, Jack Bauerle, said when it was all over.

The sudden depth of the U.S. women's program was most evident in the medley relay Saturday, when Franklin anchored a victory in American-record time. That prompted Natalie Coughlin to post afterward to her Twitter feed, "Yay. Gold medal, 4x100 MR. 10 yrs on that relay & 1st GOLD."

The depth on display in Shanghai, moreover, doesn't even factor in a whole host of college swimmers or the likes of Dara Torres or Janet Evans.

Pointing toward London, it's "unbelievably encouraging," Bauerle said.

As for the men -- well, the performances that Lochte and Phelps threw down are surely encouraging.

Lochte won five gold medals and set a world record -- the first since the plastic suits went away at the start of 2010 -- in the 200 IM, edging out Phelps in the race by 16-hundredths of a second.

Asked to reflect on his performance, Lochte said, and he was being dead serious, "I'm not happy. I know I can go a lot faster."

This is the mental key to Lochte's success. "I don't really think I'm the top dog," he explained, adding that no matter what he might accomplish, immediately afterward, "I knock myself right down to the bottom of the totem pole." So, looking toward London, "I have a whole year to work hard, train hard, to get back up there to the top. As far as I'm concerned right now, I'm at the bottom."

Phelps on Sunday night put the American men in position to win the medley relay with his butterfly split; Nathan Adrian swam the winning anchor leg.

Over the course of his week here, Phelps won both the 100 and 200 flys; he also took part in two winning relays; so that's four golds. He took two silvers, both behind Lochte, in the 200 IM and the 200 free; and he was part of the bronze-winning 400 free relay.

In all, that's seven medals -- the most won by anyone here. Over his extraordinary career, Phelps has won 26 gold and 33 world championship medals; both are records.

The medley marked Phelps' last world championship swim. He has vowed that the London Games will see the end of his competitive swimming career. He said in a Twitter post that it was "wild" to think that Shanghai was his last worlds -- his first was in 2001, in Japan -- and "amazing" to finish with a gold medal.

At a news conference, Phelps again made the point that 2011 is a warm-up for 2012. Once more, he said it's time to buckle down:

"I said this 100 times this week and I'll say it 100 more. To swim fast you've got to be in good shape. Ryan is clearly working hard and is clearly in the best shape he has probably ever been [in]. That's why he's swimming how he is. You know, I just need to get back to what I did to get to where I am, and that's hard work and not giving up, and that really is the biggest key for me over the next 12 months."

The challenge for the American men is obviously not Lochte and Phelps.

It's this:

Clary won that silver in the 400 IM and a bronze in the 200 backstroke, both behind Lochte.

Tyler McGill took third in the 100 fly, behind Phelps.

Nobody else won anything.

To be fair, stuff happens. Adrian, for instance, who finished fourth in the 50 free, touched the wall one-hundredth of a second from third place. Nobody's blaming him for that -- that would be ridiculous.

Traditionally, though, the U.S. men are strong in the breaststroke and in a race such as the 100 back. "We know where we've got to get better," the U.S. men's coach, Eddie Reese, said Sunday night.

As for the inevitable -- before the "how many golds can Lochte win in London?" chatter gets overwhelming, remember that the eight Phelps won in Beijing broke down to five individual events and three relays.

One step further: The American men would seem a safe bet for 2012 in two of those relay, the 800 free and medley.

As for the 400 free, though, the one in which Jason Lezak saved the house in 2008 -- the Australians, led by James Magnussen, smoked the Americans in Shanghai. Magnussen went on to win the open 100 here as well. He is a force, and he's just 20 years old.

Magnussen swam the lead-off leg for the Aussies; Eamon Sullivan the anchor. After watching the destruction, Reese had said, "After we saw the first guy from Australia, we didn't know he could stay out there, that they'd stay out there. Their anchor man's got such a great history. He's the guy that scared me on the relay, more so than their lead-off man. But he now scares me more."

On Sunday night, Reese observed, "The world is getting better."

Before the Americans even get to Magnussen and the Aussies, they have to get by the French; after all, the U.S. finished third in that 400 relay, not second.

There's a year for the Americans themselves to get better. And maybe to find new talent. America's college ranks are filled with up-and-coming swimmers, too, Reese said; the U.S. nationals take place in just a few days.

It makes swim freaks geeked up already for the U.S. Trials next summer in Omaha. "I think," Reese said, "it's going to be the best meet any of us have ever seen."

No 2011 magic for U.S. men's 400 freestyle relay team

SHANGHAI-- Three years ago, in Beijing, the American men won a relay race that still gives you shivers when you watch it. Who can forget Jason Lezak's out-of-body swim that clinched the gold medal? Two years ago, at the world championships in Rome, the American men again willed their way to victory in the 400-meter freestyle relay.

The magic came to a sudden and dramatic stop Saturday night in Shanghai. The Americans didn't win the 400 free relay at the 2011 world championships. The Aussies did. The Americans didn't even come in second. The French did. The Americans came home third, and about the only consolation was that this wasn't the Olympics.

"We just talked about just not liking where we were all standing," Michael Phelps said after the American men had come off the medal stand with their bronze medals.

"Clearly everybody wants to win. And being able to pull out a medal is good. But we -- I think, as Americans want to win everything that we do. We want to be the best. That's all you can really say. We strive to be the best we can be. We all know we can be better than that."

This was a loss for the books. The Americans had won this race in 2005, 2007 and 2009 and of course at the 2008 Games.

This was, moreover, a race that underscored two particular facets of swimming that make it thoroughly compelling.

One relates to the sport as it is now around the world: A whole bunch of countries are really good. That means the U.S. team is clearly going to be challenged heading toward London and the 2012 Games. That challenge may yet prove constructive. Only time will tell.

Two is more particular to U.S. swimming. The culture of American swimming is not only to stress accountability but to accept and acknowledge defeat -- to be stand-up about it. American athletes in any number of other sports could learn a lot from the way U.S. swimmers handle losing.

"I was out too slow," Garrett Weber-Gale, who swam the second leg of Saturday's relay, said, adding a moment later, "Obviously a relay is four men but it's pretty embarrassing for me to go slow like that and I feel like, you know, I don't know the right word, but it's very disappointing for me to have such a slow leg and feel like it was my fault we did poorly.

"... Truly, I feel sick about it. I don't like it. Just have to work harder to be better next time."

Lezak, who swam third, said he didn't swim his best, either: "It takes 100 percent of a team to do their best splits to win nowadays. You can't go in there and have two guys swim great and two guys swim average and expect to win. That's what happened today. Unfortunately, I was one of the average guys out there."

The U.S. men's coach, Eddie Reese, said, "We usually swim our relays as well or better than we look like we should. This wasn't a very good relay for us."

Before the race, the focus had been on the French, Americans and Russians. The Americans had all those recent years of winning history; the Russians, after winning the relay at the 2003 worlds and then all but disappearing, had finished first at last year's European championships; the French, second.

The Australians were nobody's betting favorites. That said, Eamon Sullivan, the Aussies' anchor guy, was hardly a secret. He had gone a then-world record 47.05 in Beijing, at the Games.

The Aussies' lead-off guy Saturday turned out to be one James Magnussen. He is 19.

Magnussen promptly went 47.49 to put Australia in open water. The Aussies never relinquished the lead.

For comparison, in the 2008 Games, Phelps swam his opening leg in 47.51.

Asked late Saturday about swimming here against Phelps, Magnussen said, "No biggie."

Phelps had put the Americans in a solid second place at the end of his split, in 48.08.

They dropped to third in Weber-Gale's leg, fourth with Lezak; Nathan Adrian pulled the Americans back up to third with a 47.40 anchor.

Reese said, "We had splits that were not at all like we thought they would be. Michael's split was really good. He was out there where we thought he should be. Then we just -- our middle, Garrett and Jason -- when you get behind out in the middle of the pool, and you got real big guys making real big waves," meaning big guys from other teams, "it's not a safe place to be.

"It's why we usually we lead off with Michael. 'Cause Michael is super-solid. And he's one of the top two or three out there. I think he had the second-fastest 100 lead-off. We got what we wanted out of that."

The Aussies' winning time: 3:11 flat. The French -- 3:11.14. The U.S. -- 3:11.96.

As Phelps pointed out afterward, the 2011 American relay time was almost two and a half seconds slower than the winning U.S. 2009 relay time, 3:09.21.

There's a whole week of these world championships left -- a lot of racing. Big picture, now there will be a year to think about this loss.

"I mean, it's frustrating," Phelps said.

"... We know what we have to do to get back. We all said that. Standing up on the podium, it's clearly not the spot we want to be in. This is really going to be motivation.

"... It is a good thing it's not the Olympics. We have time to prepare and get ready and change some things. I think that's what we're all going to do. Because I don't think we like the feeling that we have right now."

The end nears for Phelps -- amid a new beginning

SHANGHAI -- Michael Phelps turned 26 a few weeks ago, at the end of June. He  can see the end of his competitive swimming career, in London, a year from now. The beginning of the end starts here, this week in Shanghai, at the world championships.

Maybe he wins the 100 and 200 butterflys, like he usually does, and maybe he wins back the 200 freestyle from Germany's Paul Biedermann. Maybe he out-duels fellow American Ryan Lochte in the 200 individual medley. Or maybe not. Whatever. This meet matters, of course, because it's the worlds, but at the same time it's a set-up for what matters more, and that's next July in London.

What matters most of all is that Phelps has, over the past several months, discovered anew the essence of what has stamped him as the greatest swimmer of all time.

To be a great swimmer you have to want to be a great swimmer.

Phelps wants it again. "I feel like my own self," he said.

At a jam-packed news conference here Saturday, so crowded that if it had been in the United States the fire marshals would have been on high alert, Phelps acknowledged he had basically played a lot of golf and not done a lot of committed swimming for a good chunk of time after the 2009 worlds in Rome.

Look -- who can blame the guy? How would you like to produce motivation after doing what nobody had done before, winning those eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing?

If you had 14 Olympic gold medals in your career, 16 Olympic medals overall, what would it take to get you out of bed in the morning to go swim in a cold pool?

"It didn't matter how much I wanted him to be there," Bowman said. "He had to want to be there."

The issue was when -- if -- that switch was going to go off.

It clicked several months back.

Phelps has been sitting for news conferences since he was 15; the 26-year-old who sat Saturday and answered questions for nearly 30 minutes proved thoughtful, reflective and mature, indeed.

This is the Michael Phelps his family and close friends know and appreciate; this was really him; he was genuine and forthright and sought to explain why, really why, it clicked and in that explanation he quite unintentionally underscored his extraordinary appeal -- and not just in the United States.

Phelps opened a Twitter-style account here in China just days ago. It's called Weibo here. As of Saturday, it already had 87,169 followers.

Here is the Phelps mantra, which he reiterated Saturday: If you work really hard at something, and don't let anyone tell you something is impossible, you can achieve anything.

What clicked, he made plain, is when he realized that all over again -- now as a grown man, and on his own terms.

"I mean, it was just taking charge of my own actions," Phelps said. "You know, just sort of deciding I wanted to do it for myself -- not Bob having to sort of twist my arm to get me in the pool.

"I know if I want to accomplish my goals, I have to do it myself.

"… For me to actually show up, to work out, I have to do it myself. I have to do it. Over the last six to eight months, that has been the case. I have been excited and happy to be in the pool …"

A few minutes later, he said, "This is just how it is. There are always going to be great times. There are going to be hard times. I haven't dealt with the hard times the last two years like I used to. They're under my belt now. I know what to expect if I don't train.

"… It's funny how when you do train, you do swim well. Who would have thought? It's that easy. All you have to do is train."

Bowman said, "Golf is not good for the 200 butterfly. We can definitively say that."

He also said, "We did a year's worth of training in nine months. How that worked -- we're going to find out -- shortly."

Racing gets underway Sunday with the 400-meter freestyle relay. U.S. men's coach Eddie Reese declined Saturday to say who would be swimming, and in what order; Phelps traditionally swims the lead-off leg. Phelps' first individual race final is likely to come Tuesday -- the 200 free.

"I'm excited," Michael Phelps said, "to get in the water."