Phelps sets sights on world medal

September 09, 1994|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

The way the North Baltimore Aquatic Club's Whitney Phelps sees it, a medal in the World Championships is a possibility if she swims her race in the prescribed fashion.

Phelps, 14, is missing the first week of her freshman classes at Towson High to compete in the 200-meter butterfly on Sunday, the final day of the seven-day championships in Rome. She qualified for the U.S. national team by winning the event at last month's Phillips 66 National Championships in Indianapolis.

"I'll need a good start and turns," Phelps said by phone from Rome. "I've got to remember to bring it home on the third and fourth 50s and my finish has to be good. I'll have to stay focused."

That was the prescription that produced Phelps' victory in the nationals. Her time of 2 minutes, 11.04 seconds was the third fastest in the world this year up to that point, behind China's Limin Liu (2:08.54) and Zhu Hong (2:10.62). Last week, however, Susan O'Neill of Australia posted a 2:09.96.

"She concentrated on her stroke rhythm and length and didn't worry where she was or who was near her," said NBAC coach Murray Stephens. "She wanted to break it open on the third lap, and did. At that point, the race was pretty much over. The second-place finisher was 1.8 seconds behind."

NBAC teammate Kelly McPherson recalls that Phelps was surprised when she was seeded only sixth in last month's nationals, especially in view of the fact she was second in the 100 and 200 butterfly in the spring nationals.

"That only made her more determined," McPherson said. "She was really psyched to make the worlds."

Stephens reasons that if Phelps can dip under 2:10, her chances of a third-place medal will be strong. Her 2:11.04 is eighth best on the all-time U.S. list headed by Mary T. Meagher.

Phelps, the second-youngest member of the team behind only freestyler Brooke Bennett, took 10 pages of Stephens-recommended workouts with her to Rome and gave them to U.S. assistant coach David Marsh. She is trying to reach a peak for another major performance only 23 days after her big victory in Indianapolis.

"I'm swimming faster here than I was when we were training in Colorado before the nationals," Phelps said. "That's a good sign. I'm doing everything Murray suggested."

Based on her 2:11.04, Phelps probably will be seeded fourth Sunday, behind Liu, O'Neill and Hong.

"I'll see if I can get close," Phelps said, "and maybe beat them."

In her hours away from the pool this week, Phelps has shopped and socialized with teammates. Her roommate is B. J. Bedford, a 21-year-old backstroker.

In one shopping trip, Phelps bought her brother, Michael, 9, "a weird thing -- candy eggs with toys inside." At a jewelry store where she bought a surprise gift for her mother, Debbie, Phelps was expecting to encounter the usual language gap. To her delight, the shopkeeper spoke French, one of Phelps' eighth-grade subjects.

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