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Phelps scales down his ambitions

MICHAEL Phelps, who a year ago was targeting an Olympic-record eight gold medals, was this week pondering only the goal of making the US world championship team.

Much has changed for Phelps in a tumultuous 12 months.

After scaling new heights in Beijing, the 24-year-old tumbled from grace, falling so hard he pondered retirement during a three-month ban from USA Swimming for being photographed inhaling from a pipe used for smoking marijuana.

But a motivated Phelps is back in the pool set to face his first true test since the Beijing Games at the US Nationals, which also serve as the qualifying event for the world championships in Rome.

It seems inconceivable a swimmer in his prime with 14 Olympic and 17 world championship gold medals and a raft of world records should be concerned about such routine matters as earning a spot on the US team. But these trials hold fear for Phelps as he continues his transition from all-rounder to sprinter.

New events, a new stroke and a return to competition that has produced nearly as many defeats as victories, left Phelps cautioning that there were no guarantees he will secure spots in all four events he will contest in Indianapolis, the 100 and 200 meters freestyle and 100 and 200 butterfly.

In order to book his ticket to Rome and his fifth world championships, Phelps must place among the top two in each event at the Natatorium.

"It doesn't matter to me if I'm the favorite or I'm not," Phelps told reporters on Monday. "The one thing I enjoy the most is being able to step up against anybody if they're faster than me. I like stepping up and racing people.

"The 100 free, I know I'm not the best but if I have the opportunity to step up and race the best then that's something I've always enjoyed."

What Phelps is trying to do is not unlike a Formula One driver making the jump to stock cars, yet these are not completely uncharted waters for the world's greatest swimmer.

Phelps already holds the world record in 200 butterfly and 200 freestyle as well as the American mark in the 100 free and he is closing in on the 100 butterfly world record.

Just two weeks ago in Montreal, Phelps clocked a time of 50.48 seconds in the 100 fly, the third fastest time ever in the event and just .08 off the record held by Ian Crocker.


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