Swimming Begins Life without Michael Phelps; Sport Looks for New Stars at World Championships after One of Its Most Popular Performers Ever Has Left the Pool

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BARCELONA, Spain * The swimming world championships begin Saturday, and for the first time in more than a decade Michael Phelps won't be competing.

Instead, the big names include Americans Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin, Sun Yang and Yi Shiwen of China, Chad le Clos of South Africa, and 16-year-old Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania.

"We will see how many stars come up, I have no doubt. Life goes on and on," FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu told The Associated Press.

Phelps had his breakout meet in Barcelona in 2003 by winning four golds as an 18-year-old. He retired after last year's London Olympics as the most decorated Olympian of all time, with 22 medals. He competed at his first worlds in 2001 in Fukuoka, Japan, breaking the world record in the 200-meter butterfly to become at 15 years and 9 months the youngest man ever to set a swimming world mark.

"For us, Phelps is an icon. He's the greatest Olympic athlete of all time and I think it will be 100 years before someone matches his medals record," Marculescu said.

So what about those reports that Phelps is considering returning for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics?

"It's his decision, not ours. He worked very hard over the years and I think he wanted to do some other things in life. I hear he is playing golf. But I also think that maybe he is missing his love, which is swimming," Marculescu said.

Other swimming story lines should be Australia's attempt to bounce back from its poor showing in London, when it won only one gold for its worst showing in 20 years. Australia coach Leigh Nugent resigned in March.

Aussie sprinter James Magnussen will be defending his gold from the 2011 worlds in the 100 freestyle after settling for silver at the Olympics. …