Leon Marchand. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Olympic big Michael Phelps said he is ‘eager’ to retain his only individual swimming world record in face of ‘starving baby’ threat Leon Marchand.
Marchand is within striking distance of the 400 IM world record, which Phelps has held for two decades, and trains with longtime American coach Bob Bowman.
The 20-year-old French swimmer clocked the second-fastest ever 400m individual medley time of 4 minutes 4.28 seconds to win gold at the world championships in Budapest in August.
“Leon is one to watch,” Phelps, 37, said at the Demain Le Sport (Sports Tomorrow) event in Paris.
“He’s just a hungry little kid, he’s hungry to be the best, to break the world record, and obviously he’s a few tenths away from that, so…
“But hopefully, fingers crossed, I’ll be greedy and try to hold the record for another year to get to 21.”
Phelps first broke the record with a 4:11.09 in Fort Lauderdale in August 2002 and last broke it in 04:03.84 en route to gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“Time will tell. He’s definitely equipped with a lot of tools,” continued Phelps, who holds the record for most Olympic medals with 28, including 23 gold.
“He’s such a great rider. He reminds me a lot of me in his competitiveness when you’re in it, like a dogfight in a race.
“It’s all about pace, dash, he’s with a great trainer, Bob, who’s coached me my whole career, so he’s in good hands.
“I’m looking forward not only to what he does at the world championships next year, but what he does here in Paris (Olympics).”
Phelps set 29 world records over two decades, but now has just two, his second in the men’s 4,100-meter freestyle relay coming with Team USA en route to Olympic gold in Beijing.
Hungary’s Christoph Milk has twice broken the 200m butterfly record held by Phelps for a decade until 2019.
“I’m happy that I’m not swimming in the 200 meters anymore because Milok will crush me. Watching him go 1.50 is impressive,” said the American, who retired in 2016.
But he believes Romania’s David Popovici is the sport’s rising star, having broken the 100m freestyle record of 46.86 at the world championships in August and closing in on the 200m freestyle mark.
“I think Popovici will be the first person to break 1.42 (200m freestyle), a record that people thought was untouchable.
“If there is a person on the planet who will go lower, it is Popovich. It’s only a matter of time before he swims even faster, kid 18.”