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US Olympic Swim Team Hopes Beijing Performance Will Top Athens Success


U.S. swimmers had great success at the Athens Olympics four years ago. But they did even better at last year's World Championships in Melbourne, so there are high hopes for a big medal haul in Beijing. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer is there and has a report.

Swimmers won 28 medals, or 22 percent of the U.S. Olympic Team's total in Athens. Twelve of them were gold, nine silver and seven bronze. At the 2007 World Championships Americans had their best performance ever, amassing 36 medals, with 20 of them gold. They also set 12 world records.

Five of those records came from superstar Michael Phelps, who won seven gold medals in Melbourne. In Beijing he will have a chance to break the single Olympics record of seven golds set by compatriot Mark Spitz back in 1972 in Munich.

But he told reporters here, that's not his focus.

"You guys are the ones who are talking all about it. I'm not saying anything," Phelps said. "You know I'm just going through what I have to do, you know preparing myself the best way I can to compete as fast as I can. And that's my goal and that's what I'm going to stick with. I haven't said anything about breaking any record, or going after any record. I'm just going to go out there and try to do something that I want to do."

Phelps added that only he and his coach know what his goals are at these Olympics.

The U.S. woman swimmer getting the most attention is Dara Torres. And for good reason. At 41 years old, she is the oldest ever to make a U.S. swim team, and the only one ever to make five Olympic teams.

"I am just looking forward to standing up and competing," Torres said. "I have at least one relay [race] and the 50-meter freestyle. I just want to go out there for those 40-something-year-olds and show that age is just a number and go out there and have fun."

The schedule for the swimmers at these Olympics will be different than any other. Normally they swim preliminaries in the morning and finals in the evening. In Beijing, preliminaries will be in the evening and finals will be in the morning. That's because U.S. television network NBC, which paid the biggest rights fee to broadcast the games, wanted to have the finals live in prime evening viewing hours in the United States, and the request was granted.

Michael Phelps said it should not make a difference.

"It's the Olympic Games. You have to be ready to swim no matter what - morning, night, midday, midnight," he said. "It doesn't matter. All that aside, you have to be ready to swim no matter what. You're representing your country and that's an honor. It doesn't matter for me. I'll be ready to swim whenever I have to."

On Saturday, the day after the Opening Ceremonies, Olympic swimmers will begin nine consecutive days of competition. The first medals will be awarded Sunday.

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