At nationals, Phelps returns to scene of his time

His 1st big splash in sport came in '01

teen primed, but Thorpe to be absent

Swimming

April 01, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Two years and two days ago, Michael Phelps made swimming history.

He would like to write some this week.

On March 30, 2001, the North Baltimore Aquatic Club dynamo became the youngest male to set a world record. Now regarded as one of the two best swimmers in the world, Phelps had hoped to cross paths with the other man in that stratosphere in Indianapolis on Sunday.

Australia's Ian Thorpe withdrew from the "Duel in the Pool" because of illness, taking the edge off that inaugural dual meet between the United States and the sport's other preeminent nation. Also, Phelps has other priorities on his agenda this week. The Conoco Phillips Spring National Championships run today through Saturday at the Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis Natatorium.

"Ian's absence doesn't change my approach at all, because he and I wouldn't have been swimming the same events in the dual meet anyway," Phelps said. "I think this gives the Australians something to make an excuse about. A lot of people who were looking forward to seeing him in the U.S. will be disappointed."

Is Phelps prepared to be the main male attraction on Sunday?

"I'm sort of used to that," Phelps said. "In the past few years, as I've broadened my schedule, more has been expected of me. I'm not even thinking about the `Duel in the Pool' right now, because I've been looking forward to the spring nationals all year."

The spring nationals are not a selection meet. Berths in major international competitions aren't at stake, but Phelps, already the world's most versatile swimmer, wants to broaden his horizons even more in what amounts to a homecoming. His only previous appearance at the IUPUI Natatorium came in the Olympic trials in August 2000. A few months past his 15th birthday, he became the youngest American male to qualify for the games since 1932.

"I can't wait to go back to Indianapolis," Phelps said. "A lot has happened since the last time I was there."

Now a 17-year-old senior at Towson High, Phelps plans to enroll at Loyola College in the fall for a few courses before he begins his final push for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. Phelps figures to be a gold medal threat in four individual events there, but the question is, which four? This week he'll see where he fits in the U.S. picture in the 200-meter backstroke and 200 freestyle.

Tomorrow, Phelps will challenge reigning Olympic champion Lenny Krayzelburg in the 200 back. On Thursday, Josh Davis and Nate Dusing are the men to beat in the 200 free.

On Friday, Phelps will be favored in the 100 fly, an event in which he's the second-fastest male all time. He is already the world's best in three other events.

At the 2001 spring nationals in Austin, Texas, Phelps was 15 years, 9 months old when he improved the world record in the 200 fly, the event he took fifth in at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. In 2001, he won a world championship in that event and lowered the world mark even further, but his training then turned to the two individual medleys.

Last summer Phelps set a second world record, in the 400 individual medley, and came close to the all-time best in the 200 medley. Phelps won both events at the Pan Pacific Championships in Yokohama, Japan, where he swam the fastest 100 fly ever in the medley relay. His signature event suffered, however. Reigning Olympic champion Tom Malchow won the 200 fly.

"In order to get his 200 and 400 medley where we wanted, Michael had to spend more of his time on other strokes," NBAC coach Bob Bowman said. "His butterfly suffered because of that, so he wants to show that he hasn't lost anything there."

In Sunday's Duel in the Pool, Phelps will swim the 400 IM, both the 100 and 200 flys, and presumably the medley relay.

Later this month, Phelps will go on a promotional tour in Australia, and it appears that he will finally go head-to-head with that nation's biggest sporting hero in July, at the world championships in Barcelona, Spain. Despite being fatigued by a meningitis-type virus, Thorpe recently swam a 200 IM that will allow him to challenge Phelps in a meet that will follow the Olympic schedule and be a prelude to what could be the most hyped rivalry in Athens.

The 13-person NBAC contingent to the spring nationals includes two other local high school students. Emily Goetsch, a Roland Park Country School senior, will swim the 100 and 200 butterfly. Meghan Sackett, a Dulaney junior, will compete in the 400 and 800 freestyle events.

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