By WILLIAM POWELL
COLUMBIA — After shattering his own world-record in the 200-meter butterfly at last year’s event, eight-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps is returning to the Mizzou Aquatics Center for the Missouri Grand Prix.
USA Swimming announced a field featuring 20 Olympians for the four-day event that runs from Feb. 15 through Feb. 18. The Grand Prix is seen as a major tune-up for the Olympic Trials and subsequent Olympic Games in Beijing this summer.
“This has always been a very competitive meet,” said Karen Linhart of USA Swimming. “Coming in an Olympic year, this is a nice meet for swimmers to see where they are.”
This year’s Grand Prix also features four-time Olympian Dara Torres, who is attempting to become the first swimmer older than 40 to qualify for the U.S. Olympic swim team. It will be just the second time Torres has competed in a meet since last August.
After winning nine Olympic medals between 1984 and 2000, Torres took six years off from swimming. She then returned to swimming to break her own American record in the 50-meter freestyle at the national meet in 2007.
The world record holders in 11 of the meet’s 26 individual events will be competing.
Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Aaron Piersol, Brendan Hansen and Ian Crocker are the men’s record holders and Natalie Coughlin and Kate Hoff hold the women’s records.
According to Linhart,the big names mean many swimmers will get to see how they stack up against world-class competition. She added that with the high level of competition, there is some possibility that more world records will be in danger of being broken at the meet.
In an effort to simulate conditions that will be seen at the Olympics this summer, preliminary rounds are being swum in the evening with the finals the next morning. The finals for the preliminary heats on Friday night will take place on Saturday morning.
The Grand Prix is also the first long course meet of the season for a majority of the swimmers. A long course meet takes place in a 50-meter pool as opposed to a 25-meter pool.
At last year’s event, swimmers broke 28 pool records at the Mizzou Aquatic Center in 32 events. In addition to Phelps’ world record, Coughlin set the U.S. Open record in the 200-meter freestyle.
An estimated 5,000 people witnessed last year’s event over the four days, and it was the most attended event ever at the MU Recreation Complex.
The Missouri Grand Prix is the third meet of the eight-leg 2008 Toyota Grand Prix Series. Points are awarded to swimmers for each medal they win during the series. The swimmer with the most points in the eight events will receive $20,000 in prize money.