Park Tae-hwan now has a greater chance of medaling in the 200-m freestyle at the London Olympics this month as Michael Phelps, the reigning Olympic champion, said on Tuesday he will give it up to focus on the 400-m freestyle relay. Phelps made the announcement on the last day of tryouts for the U.S. Olympic team.
Phelps is one of the greatest swimmers in history, having won eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and six in Athens in 2004. Four years ago, he won the men's 200-m freestyle and Park settled for silver. For London, Phelps has won berths for eight events, including five individual events and three team relays. He also came first in the latest national tryouts for the 200-m freestyle.
However, Phelps surprised everyone by his decision to compete in just seven events and pull out of the 200-m free. This was due to scheduling conflicts as the preliminaries and semifinals of the race overlap with the 400-m freestyle relay final. This led Phelps to deem it prudent to drop the 200-m freestyle and conserve his energies.
This is welcome news for Park as it brightens his hopes of getting a medal in the shorter freestyle event. However, it doesn't mean the competition will not be fierce. Ryan Lochte of the U.S., the reigning world champion at the event, world record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany, and Frenchman Yannick Agnel, who has the best record of the 2012 season, are all strong contenders. But Park has an edge as the only Olympic medal winner among them in the event.