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Phelps looking to create some challenges

He will compete in six events at Santa Clara, but a showdown with Lochte won't happen.

June 29, 2007|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

If you are Michael Phelps, a certain amount of summer creativity is required because on the swimming calendar, the Beijing Olympics are more than a year away and the most important meet of 2007, the world championships, is fast receding in the rearview mirror.

This Summer of Michael, at least the last one before the Big Summer of '08, will be one of seeking creative challenges, starting today at the Santa Clara (Calif.) International Invitational and the subsequent U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.

There are some out there -- somewhere -- for him. For example ... the backstroke?

"I hope," he said in an interview this week. "I'd like to be able to race [Ryan] Lochte and [Aaron] Peirsol."

A race against Lochte was supposed to unfold in the 200 backstroke on Saturday, which happens to be Phelps' 22nd birthday. But Lochte pulled out of the meet because of an injury, according to a spokesperson from USA Swimming on Thursday. Peirsol did not enter Santa Clara.

Lochte versus Phelps would have been one of the marquee races in Santa Clara. It was in the 200 backstroke at the world championships in Melbourne where Lochte had his career breakthrough, upsetting Peirsol and setting a world record. Peirsol had not lost at that distance since the 2000 Olympics.

But even without Lochte in Santa Clara, there is Olympic star power on hand. The meet opened Thursday with finals in the women's 1,500-meter freestyle and the men's 800 freestyle. The bigger program starts tonight and continues through Sunday.

Phelps will be doing his usual multi-tasking. He has six individual events scheduled: the 200 butterfly (tonight), the 400 freestyle and the 200 backstroke on Saturday and the 100 freestyle, the 100 backstroke and the 200 individual medley on Sunday.

Phelps had planned to race in the Mare Nostrum Series in Europe but opted to skip the events because of shoulder tendinitis and other reasons, in particular, a hectic first half of the season.

Other U.S. Olympians scheduled to compete in Santa Clara are world-record holders Natalie Coughlin and Brendan Hansen.

There will also be a standout group of international swimmers in Santa Clara, including Leisel Jones of Australia, the world champion and world-record holder in the 200 breaststroke.

The men's 50 will feature world champion Ben Wildman-Tobriner of San Francisco, who competed for Stanford last season, against South African sprint stars Roland Schoeman and Ryk Neethling.

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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