Phelps struts, but the showdown must wait

The King has arrived. Let the Games begin. The Michael Phelps Olympic farewell tour has begun in London, with the record-breaker taking his first plunge into his final Olympic pool.

The American super-fish arrived in London with his teammates at lunchtime on Tuesday night (NZT), having spent the past week in Spain at the US team training camp. Looking relaxed, and with the now standard pre-competition beard, Phelps and the US team arrived at the pool early Tuesday morning (NZT), completed a short session, then left as swift as he arrived.

For the most successful athlete in Olympic history having won 14 gold medals - six in Athens and eight in Beijing - this is it. He is set to retire after London, but wants to go out with a bang rather than a whimper, and will contest seven events in London - the 100m and 200m butterfly, the 200m and 400m individual medley, and will be a member of all three American relay teams.

Phelps, fellow American superstar Ryan Lochte, and the rest of the Americans, arrived at the Olympic pool just minutes after several Australian swimmers - including Australia's next big Olympic thing, and fellow beard-grower James Magnussen - had made their way onto pool-deck for an afternoon session.

While it's still the case that other swimmers from smaller nations, and poolside officials, all look on in awe as Phelps walks past, it's also now a similar case when The Missile wanders by on pool-deck.

Any thoughts of Magnussen and Phelps having a hit-out alongside one another on Tuesday night (NZT) were quickly thwarted, however, when the Australian headed off for a massage before his dip, while Phelps leisurely made his way up and down the pool.

With Phelps opting out of swimming the 100m freestyle at the US Olympic trials, the hopes of a head-to-head clash in London between the King of the Pool and his heir became slim. They could however meet on Sunday night in what is looming as one of the most hyped events of the eight-day swimming program, the men's 4 x 100m freestyle relay. Magnussen is expected to lead off the Australian relay and Phelps is a candidate to do likewise with the Americans.

The pair met under those circumstances in the relay at the world championship in Shanghai last year. Magnussen led off in what was then the fastest time ever swum in a textile swimsuit, a 47.49s. Phelps was second home but, well adrift in 48.08s.

Another tantalising clash ... we can only hope.

Sydney Morning Herald