For Phelps, the 18-year-old from Baltimore who will begin his quest for an unprecedented four individual gold medals today with the first two rounds of the 200-meter butterfly, he must hope the competition unfolds better for him than it did yesterday for Coughlin, who has been slowed by illness.
Coughlin owned the women's side of the 2002 Summer Nationals, when she became the first person since Tracy Caulkins in 1978 to hold five U.S. titles.
On Sunday, she teamed with the venerable Jenny Thompson as the United States won the 400 freestyle relay on Day One of the meet, but yesterday Coughlin didn't get out of the preliminaries in the 100 backstroke, where she's the world-record holder, and finished eighth in the 100 butterfly, won by Thompson.
"It has a way of coming and going," Coughlin said of her fever, which hit 101.4 degrees Saturday night and has been accompanied by nausea and a sore throat. "Of course, I'm disappointed, because the 100 back is one of the events I care most about. I expected it [the 100 fly final] was going to be a painful race. I was just pulling for Jenny, because I knew I couldn't do it."
After a fortuitous day of rest today, Coughlin hopes to regroup in the 100 freestyle and 200 backstroke.
The 100 fly delivered a world championship-record 11th gold medal for Thompson, who is 30 and in the midst of medical training. The most decorated American female Olympian has eight gold medals, but all in relays, and yesterday's win in a meet-record 57.96 seconds raised speculation that her fourth Olympics could finally bring gold in an individual event.
"Swimming isn't the only thing in my life," said Thompson, who after the 2000 Olympics went into semi-retirement for 18 months. "At first, I didn't miss it at all. I was content to live like a normal person. I was barely aware that the 2001 championships were even held. I enjoy it, but it isn't my future, as my adviser would say."
Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, the silver medalist in 2001, held off Ed Moses of Northern Virginia's Curl-Burke Swim Club in the 100 breaststroke. It was the first gold medal ever by a Japanese swimmer in the world championships.
Michael Phelps will race 13 times in six days in this week's swimming world championships.
Today 200 butterfly preliminaries and semifinals
Tomorrow 200 butterfly final, 800 freestyle relay
Thursday 200 individual medley preliminaries and semifinals
Friday 100 butterfly preliminaries and semifinals, 200 IM final
Saturday 100 butterfly final
Sunday 400 IM semifinals and final, 400 medley relay