LONDON, July 26 (Reuters) - America’s Olympic swimmers are not like other athletes. They start training before dawn every day and spend hours in virtual isolation, relentlessly churning through pools filled with chlorine.
They regularly catch colds and live with the consequences longer than ordinary citizens because they are terrified to take flu medications in fear they might test positive to drugs.
Even after years of training, the difference between winning and losing gold medals comes down to tiny fractions of seconds, promoting an environment where modesty generally reigns supreme over trash-talking.
Even Michael Phelps, whose 14 gold medals are more than many countries have won in the last century, worries about making brash statements.
“We take care of our own business. If you get caught up in other people’s talking, and this and that, it just takes away from what we’re here to do,” he said on Thursday.
“We’re here to swim and that’s it. We’re not gonna run our mouths. We never have. Our country has never done that.”
Phelps was forced into a quick retreat when he was reminded about the 2000 Sydney Olympics when Gary Hall said the American men’s 4x100 metres freestyle relay team would smash the Australians like guitars.
The Australians, led by Ian Thorpe, duly won the race and the gold medal.
“I forgot about Sydney,” Phelps laughed. “The people in this team haven’t done that. We didn’t say smash them like guitars.”
The Australians are the favourites this time and have begun taunting the Americans but Phelps could not be baited.
“It’s going to be a challenging race for sure,” Phelps said.
“We’re going to put our four guys up there at night who we think could swim the fastest time. If it’s the fastest time in the world it is, if it’s not, we’re going to try as hard as we can to swim as fast as we can.”
The Australians might be favourites in that race but the U.S. hold the upper hand in most of the other races.
In the 26 individual events, U.S. swimmers have the fastest time in the world this year in 12 events. They are even more dominant in the six relays.
“Of all the women’s teams I’ve been on, this is the strongest by far, at least on paper,” said Natalie Coughlin.
“Anything can happen over the next 10 or 11 days, but we’ve got a very deep team.”
Tyler Clary said the men’s team were also confident of scooping up a swag of medals.
“As far as I can see, there are no weaknesses,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to win everything but we have a lot of strong swimmers on the team.” (Editing by Alan Baldwin)