Phelps wins consolation world race

September 12, 1994|By Sharon Robb | Sharon Robb,Special to The Sun

ROME -- Whitney Phelps chalked up her first world championships as a learning experience.

On the final day of the World Aquatics Championships at the Foro Italico, the 14-year-old from Towson, Md., and the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, just missed making the Top 8 championship final in the 200-meter butterfly yesterday.

Phelps was ninth fastest in the morning heats in 2 minutes, 14.93 seconds. She came back to win the consolation final in 2:12.16.

"I think if I swam a better 100 cut, I would have finaled," Phelps said after giving her USA swim cap away to a young Italian fan.

"I felt so much looser tonight than I did this morning. I wasn't nervous at all tonight. I was joking and laughing with the other girls, and staying loose.

"It was a learning experience for sure," Phelps said. "It is still a thrill being here. I'm happy knowing that I can do better."

Le Jingyi won the 50-meter freestyle in the world-record time of 24.51 for one of three gold medals for China on the sixth and final day of competition. China finished with 19 medals, including 12 gold.

China won the women's title with 440 points amid rampant speculation that the female swimmers are taking performance-enhancing drugs. The United States was second with 388.

Eighteen of the world's top swimming nations, including the United States, Germany and Australia, signed a petition asking FINA, the sport's international governing body, to enforce random drug testing, both in and out of competition, in every swimming country. China was not singled out in the petition.

Phelps, not caught up in the Chinese controversy, said she is relieved the meet is over.

"It's all over with. I can go home," she said. "I would have liked to have made finals. It was a little hard sitting around the whole week waiting for my race."

At 14, Phelps is the second youngest on the team. Brooke Bennett of Brandon, Fla., is three weeks younger. A freshman at Towson High School, Phelps is missing four days of school but said this event was worth the makeup work it will cost her.

"I really had a lot of fun. It was a good experience," Phelps said. "I met a lot of new people, like some of the Olympians. I just sat there and thought, 'Oh, my gosh, I can't believe I'm meeting these people.' "

Phelps was able to get a few butterflies out Saturday morning by swimming the 400-meter medley relay preliminaries.

"I was a little tight in that race," Phelps said. "I was hoping to loosen up more. I couldn't lift my arms out of the water. I was a little nervous, I could feel my neck getting tight.

Phelps qualified for the world championships by winning the 200-meter butterfly title at the world trials in Indianapolis in August. It was her first senior national title. She also was third in the 100 butterfly. In May, she qualified for a junior national team competition in Paris.

"I was really happy. I had a big smile on my face when I finished first at nationals," Phelps said. "I really wanted to make this team."

For the next two years, Phelps plans to concentrate on her training. She would like to break the age group records of Mary T. Meagher, known as Madame Butterfly. Meagher has held the world records in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly events since 1981.

"I'd like to get all her records and I'd really like to go to the Olympics," Phelps said. "Those are the two things I'd really like to do."

The best advice NBAC coach Murray Stephens gave her was not to get caught up in the Chinese performance, she said. "That kept me motivated," Phelps said.

"I would like to beat the Chinese," Phelps said. "They're just unbelievable. I feel like I've just begun to scratch the surface with my swimming. It's going to take a lot more hard work."

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