Friday June 27th, 2008

As the U.S. Olympic swimming trials get underway on Sunday in Omaha, here are 10 story lines to watch for.

DARA WE SAY IT?: Can Dara Torres, 24 years removed from her first Olympics, qualify for Beijing at age 41 and become the first U.S. swimmer to make five Olympic teams? She could qualify in the 50 free, her best individual event, but would have a better chance to get into the relay pool for the 4x1.

PHELPS' NINE LIVES: Michael Phelps is entered in nine individual events at the trials. No, he can't possibly swim them all (he has certainly added the 100 free to his customary flys, IMs and 200 free), but which ones will Phelps swim in Omaha? Which events in which he qualifies will he commit to swimming in Beijing? Will his ambitious program prove too taxing or enhance his growing legend?

WILL CROCKER CRACK?: At his historic best, Ian Crocker, the world-record holder in the 100-meter butterfly, has been too much, in his prime event, for even Phelps. But Crocker's performances range from world-beating to head-scratching. Will he be on top of his game?

DOES LOCHTE HOLD THE KEY?: Ryan Lochte is among the world's most versatile swimmers. Does the world champ in the 200 back have enough to dethrone Phelps in one of the individual medley events or the great backstroker Aaron Peirsol in either the 100 or 200?

WILL EVANS' 800 FREE RECORD FALL?: Janet Evans' world record 8:16.22 in the 800 freestyle, set in 1989, is the longest-standing mark on the books, but Kate Ziegler has already knocked off Evans' record in the 1,500 free (a non-Olympic event for women) and with Katie Hoff pushing her, Ziegler could take down another one.

THE TOP WOMAN IS ...: Flip a coin to name the country's most versatile female swimmer. Heads and it's Natalie Coughlin, who could make the team in 100 free, 200 free and 100 back, setting her up for a possible six medals in Beijing, including relays. Tails and it's Hoff, who could win both individual medleys and get on the team in the 200 free (in which she'll battle Coughlin) and 400 and 800 frees (in which she'll tangle with Ziegler).

HALL OF FAME: Free-spirited 10-time Olympic medalist Gary Hall Jr. has beaten back doubters and diabetes and now he's trying to kick Father Time in the can again. At 33, Hall isn't quite Torres, but his passion for the sport, in the face of his insulin regimen and "my new friend rigor mortis," is inspiring. Can the freestyler sprint his way onto another Olympic team?

IF NOT HALL...: Don't blink. The men's 50 free is likely to come down to two sprinters who could easily reach the podium in China. World champ Ben Wildman-Tobriner has a PR of 21.80 and Cullen Jones is nipping at his heels at 21.82. The mad dash to the wall in Omaha could be a preview of the same in Beijing.

WELL SUITED?: New age swimsuits have gotten a lot of great pub this year, which may have as much to do with clever marketing and selective supply as the space-age technology they purport to employ. Olympic years always produce faster times and more records than non-Olympic years, but will these hydrodynamic marvels really overhaul the record books?

BEARDED WONDER: Amanda Beard has Olympic medals of every color on her résumé and her U.S. record in the 200 breaststroke (2:22.44) still stands. Still, a fourth Olympic appearance would be a long shot for the 26-year-old, especially with the emergence of newcomer Rebecca Soni in the 200 breast.

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