Sunday, May 17, 2009

Great race coming tonight at UltraSwim

Michael Phelps -- with a lot more facial hair than he had in the 2008 Beijing Olympics -- talks to the media after one of his races at the Charlotte UltraSwim this weekend.

The best -- and most-publicized -- Charlotte UltraSwim in the 25-year history of the meet will come to a fitting conclusion Sunday night with what could be the best race of the meet.

In the men's 100-meter freestyle, 14-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps will face a trio of worthy challengers -- France's Fred Bousquet, Charlotte's Ricky Berens and Cullen Jones, who went to N.C. State and now swims for Charlotte's Mecklenburg Aquatic Club. The race is scheduled for approximately 7:45 p.m. Tickets are sold out.

In the Sunday morning preliminaries, Phelps and Berens qualified the fastest. They won their separate heats, each in a time of 49.50. That's a couple of seconds off Phelps' best time in the event, but it was only 1/10th of a second off Berens' personal best, and Berens was very happy with it.

"It's going to be a fantastic race," Berens said, "and I'm glad I'm going to be in the middle of the pool for it." Berens and Phelps will get two of the preferred inside lanes by virtue of their times. Berens, who grew up in Charlotte and is now a rising senior at the University of Texas, had the tougher heat in the morning but bested Jones and Bousquet with a superb final 25 meters.

Jones qualified third-fastest at 49.75. Bousquet was fourth at 49.81 but in some eyes will be the favorite tonight. Bousquet won the 50 freestyle here Saturday and holds a world record in that event. His personal best of 47.15 in the 100 is not a world record, but it's better than anyone else in the field.

The race will conclude both the UltraSwim and Phelps' participation in it, which has ramped up the attention (and the crowds) considerably. Phelps has won 2 of 3 events here and swam only the preliminary in the fourth (getting beaten by Charlotte's Jared White in his heat) before scratching out of the final. His one loss in a final came to backstroke king Aaron Peirsol Saturday night.

Phelps and Jones will both continue to try out a new, straight-armed stroke (one that has been used by Bousquet for years) in tonight's final.

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