Phelps' finishing touch earns narrow win, big world mark

Stretching out 6-4 frame helps beat Vendt in 400 IM


August 16, 2002|By Sharon Robb | Sharon Robb,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- As they sat in a quiet ready room moments before the 400-meter individual medley, teen-ager Michael Phelps turned to rival Erik Vendt, broke into a wide grin and patted him on the back.

"Let's give them something to cheer about tonight," Phelps said. "Let's give the crowd a show."

Ten minutes later at the Phillips 66 National Swimming Championships, the pair staged one of the best 400 IM races in the history of the sport.

Phelps, 17, of Rodgers Forge and the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, out-touched Vendt, 21, of Massachusetts, with a world record performance of 4 minutes, 11.09 seconds, 0.18 of a second ahead of Vendt's 4:11.27.

Phelps held off a charging Vendt in the final 25 meters of the freestyle leg.

Tom Dolan set the previous 400 IM world record of 4:11.76 in 2000, when he won the gold medal at the Olympic Games, breaking his own world record that had stood since 1994.

The friendly rivals, who had staged a similar battle earlier this year with Vendt out-touching Phelps, had a packed crowd of 5,000 cheering and standing to witness the ninth world record set at the 37-year-old International Swimming Hall of Fame Aquatic Complex.

"I knew it would come down to the end," said Phelps, a senior at Towson High School. "With the unbelievable breaststroke that he has and the unbelievable drive that both of us have, I knew it would come down to the last stroke. I knew whoever got their hand on the wall first would break that record.

"The last 50 I just did everything I could to get my hand on the wall first. It's an unbelievable feeling. I didn't breathe on the left side at all on the last 50, and that's the side he was on. I could see him in the corner of my eye and I knew we were both hurting and we weren't going to let each other win."

Earlier in the week, Phelps, the world-record holder in the 200 butterfly, flirted with the world record in the 200-meter individual medley before setting the American record of 1:58.68, the second-fastest time ever.

"Going into this race I knew whoever won was going to break the world record," Vendt said. "To be honest, I thought I had him with 25 [meters] to go. ... It was the best race I have ever been a part of. He is probably the best swimmer in America right now."

Sharon Robb is a reporter for the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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