BEIJING (Reuters) - A close shave could make all the difference for U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps in a sport where races can be won or lost by a whisker.
The 23-year-old arrived at the Beijing Olympics, where he could better compatriot Mark Spitz’s 1972 record of seven golds in a single Games, looking laid back and sporting a nascent Fu Manchu moustache.
Television viewers will see a different face when the American makes his debut in the pool on Saturday, however.
“It (the moustache) is probably going away tonight or tomorrow,” he told reporters at a presentation for sponsors Speedo on Thursday. “It’s almost out of there.”
Spitz competed with a bushy moustache and no goggles but the sport has moved on since the Munich Games, with even the most macho of male swimmers now shaving their body hair for any hint of a competitive edge.
“I’m not going to be competing with the moustache,” said Phelps. “I’ll grow it back out afterwards and mess with it here and there.
Team mate Garrett Weber-Gale, a first time Olympian boasting a beard that an American pioneer would have been proud of, suggested facial hair could be a potent psychological weapon.
He quit shaving weeks before the U.S. Olympic trials last month, reaching for the razor only on the morning of his first race in Omaha, and reaped the rewards with the fastest times in the 50 and 100 meters freestyle.
“I did this before trials and it worked, I swam faster,” he told Reuters. “I figured I’d do it again, you don’t mess with what works.
“I grew it (the beard) again and I think it’s going to work again. It’s going to go off in the morning of the 4x100m freestyle relay finals.
“It’s the intimidation factor,” grinned Weber-Gale, hurriedly adding a swift ‘just kidding’.
“I guess it’s psychological. I went really fast in training camp a couple of times and I’m going to do something fast in the pool tomorrow. If I can go really fast with this on, who knows what I can do with it shaved.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury