Sky Is Fine: Time For Michael Phelps & Missy Franklin To Put Muzzle On Chicken Little

Michael Phelps, courtesy of USA Swimming

The sky is not falling on Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin, as much as Chicken Little might be claiming.

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The sky is not falling on Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin, as much as Chicken Little might be claiming.


Bad Anon

Great piece John Lohn… The doubters will no doubt be silenced. Phelps and Missy are incredibly experienced athletes who won’t be intimidated by public opinion nor will they crumble under the expectations of the media and public. They’ll do what they need to and their coaches know what it’ll take to make the team. Only a catastrophe will stop either athlete making the team


The reference to the history of delivering high quality results when it is needed sounds very convincing. Unfortunately there is also the history of delivering below expectations and that is what makes some people cautious in Franklin’s case. Little by little and in opinion of many the 20 years old swimmer has lost her leading role among American sprinters. The place where she was since she was fifteen. Does anybody expect her to fight for individual spot at 100 free? Why the desire of 28 years old Vollmer to target 52 sounds natural and few believe that Franklin will progress in this area. I can’t say exactly what but something has happened that made people less confident with Franklin prospects.


A very interesting piece by John and there certainly IS a certain degree of Chicken Little in evidence.

However, there has to be acknowledgement that nothing stands still over an Olympic cycle. There are changes in their own personal circumstances such as family/education, sometimes changes in coaching regimes.

As one gets older physiological changes are a fact of life and will impact not only one’s training but potentially one’s race program which may expand/contract or diversify.

Looking beyond one’s own horizons, the cold hard fact is that events never stand still. New challengers will appear just as others may leave the scene. Just as the Phelps or Franklin of 2016 is not the Phelps or Franklin of 2012; the same can be said for their competition, both domestic and internationally.

Both Phelps and Franklin DO face significant challenges both in Omaha and, presuming they qualify, in Rio and it is far from unlikely that their schedules may be considerably different (and lighter) than London; both in individual and relays.

However, John is totally correct in saying that it would be very premature and potentially unwise to be writing either of them off.

kevin roose

Looking from abroad one thing is for sure it will be a facinating meet in Omaha i love how the Americans always have the trials so close to the games .
The Aussies on the other had the trials in April so far our from the games . Who gets it right the Americans or the Aussies ?
Or are there advantages in both dates ?


Kevin, those with the gold make the rules … or are able to negotiate a little wiggle room. Why is the final date for qualification 3rd July rather than the standard end of month, ie 30Jun ?

Politics and money, me boy …… buys you influence everywhere because everyone has their price.


The problem with this article is that it is missing a key piece of information: Phelps and his coach made it known that they were going to use the Texas meet to qualify for the 200 free. Usually when The GOAT says he is going to do something, he does it. This time he fell short.. by quite a bit. I was expecting him to drop a 2:45. A 48 isn’t horrible, but it is pretty far off of what was needed.

Why did this happen? With all due respect to some of the commentators and authors, sometimes the PROCESS of performance is neglected. The concern is not that Phelps might be too old, but that he OVERTRAINED. If so, that is a rather serious problem. For those who don’t know, over-training occurs when the athlete pushes himself to the point where he is doing harm rather than good. And it’s not that easy to fix that when it happens.

The other issue: Phelps needs a taper now to swim fast. In 2008 he went to trials with just a partial taper. Now he might need more rest to qualify.. which might impact his performance at the games.

Phelps and Bowman have experience and have provided the best results in the history of the sport. I think they will make the necessary adjustments to prevail. But this time around everything is not as certain.


@Kevin Roose above: the USA system of putting trials so close to the games puts a huge burden on the top athletes. It actually favors the lesser swimmers because they can afford to go to trials on a full taper. Why not? They have nothing to lose. Maybe they might knock off one of the top guys/gals who have to worry about the actual Olympics. There are tons of examples of athletes who were hurt by this. One of the biggest was Lochte- he would have many more Olympic medals if qualification was much earlier. If a swimmer is so far ahead of the field that he/she can afford to swim through trials, that might actually be a helpful scenario. But few are at that level. Right now the only one I can think of is Ledecky. An example from the past would be Phelps in 08.

John Lohn

EasySpeed, I did reference the 200 free (and 100 free) as needing to be solidified. It must take place at Trials for relay slots to be assured.

John Lohn

Wombat, agreed on the changes that take place in an Olympic cycle. That said, I still believe these two have earned benefit of doubt and numbers back up that big things are in offing. Best part? We’ll know in two weeks. Enjoy.


I still think that Missy will qualify in at least 200 back. Who are two other Americans who will beat her in this event? Nope, can’t think any.

MP great chance to qualify on all three individual events (100/200 fly and 200 IM). Freestyle is different matter. If he wants to swim in free relays, he will have to swim 100 and 200 free in the final as well, or register mind blowing times in prelims/semis and then scratch. All indications this year do not support such predictions, and he has not registered anywhere near fast times in 100/200 free. So, unlike previous Trials, this time he seems to have to swim 100/200 free finals, which could be precarious. Even though this time he has dropped 400 IM, he will have to swim the same amount of rounds/races due to 100/200 finals.

Easyspeed touched important point: the real issue of overtraining for older swimmers. After her failure to qualify in individual events in 2012 Olympics trials, in interviews Nathalie Coughlin blamed it on overtraining and not too much rest. For MP, this may not too negatively impact his “natural stroke”, ie. Fly, but it could in freestyle events and in limited account, 200 IM.

If I were him, I’d have focused on 100fly and 200 IM and not too get hang up on making it in free relays, but of course this is not possible for Phelps, who became GOAT and most successful Olympian of all time because he didn’t take it the easier/obvious way.


Results in the past Olympics have shown that Americans have mastered the art of double taper, and holding the trials close to the Olympics didn’t negatively affect them. In fact, more Americans swam faster times at the Olympics (compared to their Trials times). It works for them.
By comparison, strangely, fewer Australians set faster times at the Olympics even though they have 3-4 months between the trials and the Olympics.

Craig Lord

That scenario, asf, has applied to many more than Australia. USA has the best record of converting from trials to Olympics in terms of stepping up not down come the big one. Last trials appear to be a catch-the-wave moment for many (certainly not all) Americans, who make the team and then seize the day.

kevin roose

i would like to see Australia give it a go have the trials just prior to the Games see what differance it makes to the times posted at the games .
I asked the question some of you where polite enough to give me sensible conclusions .


John, absolutely agree. They certainly have earned that respect.

Kevin, AUS cannot alter the geographic reality that we are a Southern Hemisphere country and our seasons are opposite way round to most others.

AUS HAS twice held their selection Trials closer to the main event twice; late 1990 & late 1997 but this was due to the Worlds being held in AUS early 1991 & 1998.

AUS most certainly could try copying the US system but it would take a couple of years to fine tune. The AUS competitive system is over our summer/early autumn so you would therefore need to move this

Dave Nicholson

To me, 2016 Omaha will be the most fascinating trials since perhaps 2000. There are so many interesting stories to pursue:

1. The rise of the pro swimmer the fact that people can actually keep swimming into their late 20s / early 30s these days. Pros still don’t make a lot of money, but they can at least pay rent and buy groceries. This wasn’t true just a few years ago. As a result, there’s many more “older” swimmers around these days. Eight years ago, there’s no way the likes of Clary, Grevers and Coughlin would still be swimming.

2. So many young guns at the precipice of breaking through. There’s a remarkable amount of untested 18-22 year old talent out there this cycle. Look at the logjam in the woman’s 100 free. Look at Ryan Murphy itching to prove himself at the Olympic level. Look at unproven but record-breaking talents like Dressel and Haas, I have no idea how they’re going to swim. Lily King, Kelsi Worrell, Abbey Weitzeil et al: all are right at the threshold of world class. Dark horses like Seliskar and Nolan…

3. The disaster of Kazan 2015 and a need for redemption. It seemed like everyone on the US team had an excuse for Kazan. Dumb selection processes combined with listless performances in a very tough meet to watch for US fans. The US team has something to prove now.

4. So much great swimming outside of the US. The rest of the world has really caught up. The US have a street fight on their hands in Rio.

It’s an amazing time to be a US swimming fan. I personally can’t wait until Omaha.


Aswimfan and Craig Lord are incorrect. The back to back meets have had a net detrimental effect as far as best performance. Many American swimmers are so good (i.e. ranked highly in their events) they can swim close to best times and still win medals. So it’s not like everyone on team USA swimming will swim terribly the way things are. But they would do better if the qualification process was earlier. Adrian missed having 50 free as an individual event in 2012 because of the retaper. Phelps lost a silver in the 400 IM due to the retaper (his time from three weeks earlier was bested only by Lochte). Hansen lost two gold medals due to the retaper in 2004. And on and on. There was a reader poll on Swimming World a little while back and it was something like 90% agreed the trials should be earlier. To summarize, Americans can do well with the double taper but would do better without it. Exceptions are the rare swimmers who are so on top of their game that they can “swim through” Trials.

Craig Lord

easyspeed, we are not wrong. You are citing limited examples. When Britain rate of improvement trials to Olympics was 37% and Australia 44% as one of the better non-American examples at a recent Games, the United States topped 60% and looking back in history the rate of trials to Olympics speed match or gain is much higher among American swimmers than it has been among their rivals. I’m not arguing whether trials should be earlier or not: different debate. What you cannot argue with is the healthy rate of US match or improve trials to big meet compared to other nations. The history of swimming is stacked with moments when Americans grabbed silver and bronze by matching trials or stepping up as others stepped down.


Like most things in life, “the truth lies somewhere in between” and that is likely to be the case with US Trials.

Both the “Chicken Littles” and those wrapping themselves in Old Glory and chanting “USA, USA” are likely to receive reality checks.

US swimmers ARE a mixture of those who have the capacity of year-round competitiveness and those who are strictly “taper only”. USA DOES have the greatest depth and the widest spread of talent in the sport but this does not equate to them being “impregnable” or not having “gaps”/events where they may not be at the cutting edge internationally.

Potential solutions may come forward at these Trials but its also likely that some issues will remain. As with any other nations, there will be the quota who peak at Trials but go missing in the big time; those who at least maintain their Trials standards & those who go further.

The issues for me is how effectively can the veterans “hold the line” and to what extent can the new generation make inroads/supplant the “old regime”. Whilst there have certainly been clear signs in certain events, to date it hasn’t fully evident that regime change will be universal. The issue then is how this stands up to rest of the world.

Plenty of questions to which we, as yet, have no conclusive answers.


@Craig Lord: the “debate” was in response to Kevin’s question above re: the ideal time for a country to hold trials. I agree- and as I stated earlier, USA does well as things are, but could do better if trials were held sooner. It’s always better to have one major taper rather than two; that’s just basic swimming theory.

Of course the timing of trials is just one factor in overall performance. But is is a significant one and the re-taper does place an unecessary burden on athletes.

FYI: the absurdly “late” date of USA trials has only been that way relatively recently. I think since 2000. So that’s only four Olympics.

Finally, I want to go on record predicting Phelps will win the 200IM, 200 Fly and 100 Fly. But if he doesn’t, it’s probably because of one of the reasons I mentioned above.

Of course it is also possible that Michael does a best time and someone else does a better time. Not seeing any evidence right now that could happen (a competitor could drop that much time) tho it is possible. Right now those three are Phelps’ race to lose.

Craig Lord

easyspeed, the ‘debate’ may well have been in the context of what you state but you wrote something else – namely, I was wrong. Since I was not writing in the context of timing of trials, I could not have been wrong. The statistics I cite are correct, regardless of how early or late trials might impact on that.


“There are lies, damn lies and statistics.”

Ok, I see the point you and, apparently, aswimfan are trying to make. So technically you were not incorrect, so I apologize for that. But those numbers do not answer the original question and can be, in fact, misleading in their interpretation.

Anyone who is familiar with research design and statistics knows the numbers you cited are meaningless. Who is to say there would not be greater improvements if trials were held earlier? You would need to have half the swimmers go to trials earlier, half later… Even that has problems with External Validity.

Craig Lord

Again, easyspeed, my comment was not made in relation to any debate on early/late trials (the impact of which is, as things stand, a guess) … so the numbers are hardly meaningless: they reflect one of explanations to the question – how have USA swimmers managed to deliver the longest run of medal-table-topping performances all-time, all sports? Take in Olympic medals tables and world-titles medals tables and it truly is hard to find another sport where one national team has been so winning for so long, hardly a blip (a few in there) in the mix … so the answer includes: conversion rates higher than all other teams… and that gets you on the podium and that makes the USA the winningest team on medals.


There is one thing about Franklin that I cannot find explanation about. Her today’s ranking at freestyle disciplines are the following: #100 at 50; #51 at 100; #22 at 200. The rankings that are not very optimistic and do not say about any progress. The only hope left that she is a taper swimmer capable of huge drop when being rested. But there WAS a progress since her best performance at WC at Barcelona in 2013. That was her phenomenal 1:39 at 200 SCY. Where did it go? It still has to stay with her. Yes, it is only 180m and four more turns. But I am not talking about direct conversion from SCY to LCM. I am talking about progress she’s shown at this distance and btw she is not that good with underwater to think that extra turns are the reason. I’m still waiting for big surprise at this distance despite it looks like she has little chances for medal and the schedule is not favorable. I would say tough.

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