Eight-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps and five-time medalist Natalie Coughlin are expected to headline a field of 21 former Olympians competing in the Missouri Grand Prix beginning Friday at the Mizzou Aquatic Center.
At least 23 members of the United States team for the World Championships will also be competing, along with an elite group of international competitors.
The two-year old Mizzou Aquatic Center has paid off in the form of one of the country’s biggest swimming events coming to Columbia.
The event will be held from Friday-Monday next weekend. It is the third stop of the seven-event Toyota Grand Prix series, and the last major event before the World Championships in Melbourne, Australia next month.
Lindsay Mintenko, the managing director of the United States National Swimming Team, said the new facility attracted the event to Columbia.
“We’ve heard the facility is spectacular,” she said. “And, we wanted a meet in the Midwest.”
Mintenko said that the closer it gets to a major event, the better prepared the swimmers are. Thus, with the World Championships coming up so soon,Mintenko said, fans can expect some great times at the Missouri Grand Prix, and perhaps even a world record or two.
“This is a really big gear-up competition for our world championships,” she said. “There should be some great competition.”
Mintenko said she encourages people who might not normally come out for a swimming event to take advantage of the rare opportunity to see world-class Olympic athletes compete in Columbia. Besides seeing stars like Phelps and Coughlin, Mintenko said she thinks fans will be impressed with the sport.
“I think a lot of people will be surprised with how exciting swimming is,” she said.
The event will consist of seven sessions. It will begin Friday at 6 p.m. with competition in the 50-meter freestyle, 50-meter backstroke, and 50-meter breaststroke, along with the men’s 800-meter freestyle and the women’s 1500-meter freestyle. Competition in many other events will take place on Saturday-Monday. Each day will have two sessions, with a preliminary session beginning at 9 a.m. and a finals session starting at 5:30 p.m.
Tickets are $5 per session and will be available at the Mizzou Aquatic Center on the days of the event.
At the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Greece, Phelps and Coughlin thrilled millions of Americans.
Phelps became the first American to win eight medals, including six gold and two bronze. Coughlin won five medals in Greece, tying the record for medals by a female American swimmer.
The event will likely give Columbia residents a chance to say that they saw Olympic heroes compete in person, something Mintenko says is a great incentive for people to attend the event.
“These might be the same people you see in 2008, so to see them in person would be pretty special,” she said.