By BETH HARRIS
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- The U.S. team headed to the world swimming championships in Rome has a lot to live up to. The Americans won a leading 36 medals, including 20 golds at the 2007 worlds in Australia.
Michael Phelps, who earned seven golds as a prelude to his record-setting performance at the Beijing Olympics, is back to swim in three individual sprint events and likely all three relays in Rome. Olympians Dara Torres, Aaron Peirsol and Ryan Lochte will be there too, but there's plenty of inexperienced youngsters joining them.
"It'll be a real challenge to be close to our medal count from 2007," said Mark Schubert, head coach and general manager of the U.S. national team. "This is more of a building year for us."
That's especially apparent on the women's side, where at 42, Torres is practically a senior citizen next to 15-year-old Elizabeth Pelton. The youngster from the same North Baltimore club as Phelps will swim the 50, 100 and 200-meter backstroke events in the biggest meet yet of her young career.
Other first-timers headed to Rome are 16-year-old Elizabeth Beisel, 17-year-old Dagny Knutson, 18-year-old Alyssa Anderson and 23-year-old Hayley McGregory.
"There's a lot of people on their first world championship-level team and that's always exciting," said Bob Bowman, Phelps' coach who will oversee the men's team.
"We're very excited that they're going to get a chance to see this level, but it's very hard to step up to that level from what they've been doing."
Olympians Katie Hoff, Margaret Hoelzer, Megan Jendrick, Kara Lynn Joyce, Whitney Myers and Elaine Breeden failed to qualify at nationals, opening up spots on the women's side. Others like Natalie Coughlin, Amanda Beard, Brendan Hansen, Ian Crocker, Erik Vendt and Larsen Jensen are either taking the year off or have retired.
Among the new faces on the men's team are Tyler Clary, Dan Madwed, Tyler McGill, Jackson Wilcox and Brennan Morris. They'll be joined by Olympians Nathan Adrian, Eric Shanteau, Matt Grevers, Cullen Jones, Peter Vanderkaay and Garrett Weber-Gale.
"The 2007 world team was our best ever and I don't think we're there," Bowman said. "We'll have a lot to prove with this team."
Torres qualified for her first world championships since 1986, and she'll swim the 50 freestyle despite an ailing left knee that needs surgery later this summer.
Lochte qualified in three individual events, including the 200 backstroke, which figures to be one of the best races of the eight-day competition that begins July 26.
He, Peirsol, who broke the 100 and 200 backstroke world records at nationals, and Ryosuke Irie of Japan will duke it out in the July 31 race.
At the five-day U.S. nationals, the high-tech suits that have turned swimming and its world recordbook upside down over the last year were the hot topic. The debate will surely continue in Rome, where athletes will have to choose their suits from a list approved by the sport's world governing body.
"It's unfortunate if it makes a difference in who the world champion is," Schubert said, referring to the suits. "We want athleticism to determine the true world champions."
Some suits on the list were initially rejected for competition and then later approved after manufacturers modified them, which ticked off the world's swimming superpowers of the United States and Australia.
Many athletes and coaches expect some suits currently on the list to be banned by next year as FINA continues laboratory tests for buoyancy, thickness and water resistance.
At nationals, swimmers experimented with various versions, sometimes changing what they wore from morning heats to evening finals. An inspector checked the suits to make sure they were FINA-approved and no one was wearing two, which is now illegal.
"It is a huge distraction and it's not good for our sport," Schubert said. "There are some athletes that are very loyal to their (sponsor) company and may have not made changes because of that loyalty. It may have cost them a spot on the team."
Schubert would like to see the suits go back to being made of material used in 2007 before companies came out with polyurethane versions.
"These present world records are artificially aided," he said, including the ones set at the Beijing Games.