Swimming : Relay fireworks to light up opening weekend

Thu Aug 4, 2016 6:38pm EDT
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By Alan Baldwin

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Michael Phelps is fired up and ready to go for what promises to be an explosive first weekend of the Rio Olympic swimming program.

The American could feature in Sunday's 4x100 freestyle relay final and should collect the 23rd Olympic medal of his record-breaking career if he does.

The U.S. men have not failed to finish in the top three since the event was introduced in 1964 but champions France and resurgent Australia will be tough opponents.

The women's 4x100 is Saturday's late night highlight, with U.S. golden girl Katie Ledecky tipped to swim in the preliminary heats to qualify for a medal in an event world champions Australia are favorites to win.

"The first two nights of the relays, with the women’s on the first night and the men’s on the second, there will probably be a lot of fireworks in the swimming pool," said Phelps.

"I’m looking forward to either watching or being in that race. Those races are ... super fast and there are always some crazy splits that take place."

Water and pyrotechnics usually result in a damp squib but Phelps is right to be excited. The sprint relays offer memorable nights of high drama.

Now 31 and in his fifth Games, the most medaled Olympian of all time (18 golds) has played his part in many such moments but may have to dig deeper this time.   Continued...

Aug 4, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil;  Michael Phelps (USA) swims prior to the start of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Olympic Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports