LONDON: Michael Phelps leads American ambitions to wrest supremacy from Ian Thorpe's Australia in the forthcoming world swimming championships in Barcelona which start on Sunday.
Thorpe won a record six gold medals at the last world championships in Fukuoka, Japan, in 2001 as Australia claimed 13 titles in the pool against nine for the United States following a 14-7 advantage to the Americans at the 1998 edition in Perth.
The US scored an overwhelming 196-74 points victory over their rivals in the 'Duel in the Pool' in Indianapolis in April but the Australians were depleted and Thorpe pulled out because of a viral illness.
The Americans, nonetheless, will face the real showdown in Barcelona's Palau Sant Jordi pool with every confidence, buoyed by the exploits of Phelps, who claimed his second world record of the year on June 29, a day before his 18th birthday.
The championships start on Sunday with open-water swimming, diving, water polo and synchronised swimming but fans must wait until the following Sunday for the major action in the pool to begin, stretching over eight days.
Phelps, defending world champion and world record holder in the 200m butterfly, fastest man this year in the 100m butterfly as well as world record holder in the 200m and 400m individual medley, will have every opportunity to shine.
But there is plenty more talent in the US squad, with 2001 world champions Natalie Coughlin (women's 100m backstroke but also top class in butterfly and freestyle) and Aaron Peirsol (men's 200m backstroke) in powerful form.
Strong comebacks have also been signalled by double Olympic backstroke champion Lenny Krayzelburg, former world champion Jenny Thompson in the women's sprint freestyle and 1996 double Olympic breaststroke silver medallist Amanda Beard.
Thorpe, who became the youngest men's world champion ever when he won the 400m freestyle in 1998 at the age of 15.
The swim sensation will defend his 200m and 400m freestyle crowns but has dropped the 800m freestyle in favour of the 200m individual medley in which he faces a tremendous race against Phelps and Olympic champion Massimiliano Rosolino of Italy.
He once again contests the 100m freestyle, in which he finished fourth in Fukuoka, and will play a major part in Australia's bid to retain all three men's relay titles.
Fellow Australian Grant Hackett remains in a class of his own in the 1500m freestyle, having won the event in 1998 and 2001 and the Olympic title in 2000, and should also be too strong for the rest in the 800m freestyle in the absence of Thorpe. – Reuters