Butterfly win gives Phelps versatile first

Latest triumph example of multi-stroke excellence


April 05, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - Another day, another national title for Michael Phelps, but this one was anything but routine.

Phelps completed an unprecedented triple last night at the Conoco Phillips Spring Nationals, where he won the 100-meter butterfly in 51.89 seconds. Disappointment at falling short of his fifth world-record swim was tempered by a tidbit from USA Swimming, which reported that the 17-year-old from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club became the first male to win events in three of the four different strokes at the same national meet.

"That's an honor. It keeps building on my resume," said Phelps, who earlier in the week won the 200 backstroke and 200 freestyle, but wasn't satisfied with last night's 100 fly. "I wanted the world record, and I'm very hard on myself when I don't achieve what I set out do."

The last time Phelps competed at the Indiana University Natatorium on the campus of IUPUI was at the U.S. Olympic Trials in August 2000, when, two months past his 15th birthday, he became America's youngest male swimmer to earn a spot in the games since 1932. The Towson High senior is still two months from turning 18, but normal barriers don't pertain to him.

Just last summer, Natalie Coughlin, a 20-year-old from California, became the most recent woman to win events in three different strokes in the same national meet, but that kind of range is rarer among males.

The last man to win events in three of the four strokes was Neil Walker, but his career achievement covered four years, 1997 to 2000, not three days.

Phelps is coming off a breakthrough year in the individual medleys, and began to show off his versatility on Wednesday when he beat reigning Olympic 200 backstroke champion Lenny Krayzelburg in 1:57.04, the third-fastest American time ever.

Thursday saw him branch out again with victory in the 200 freestyle, where he became No. 4 on the U.S. all-time list with a mark of 1:47.37.

"The surprise there was how well Michael stayed within himself. We're sure there's a lot more there," said Bob Bowman, his coach, of the 200 free. "What we're doing is making Michael the best all-around swimmer he can be.

"You can't swim at this level and in this many disciplines without a commitment to work. He accomplished everything he needed to do this week, and the big event is still to come."

Phelps will be in more familiar water in tomorrow's Duel in the Pool against Australia, in which he'll swim both butterflys, the 400 IM and the medley relay. He came here as the world-record holder in the 400 individual medley and the 200 butterfly, and the American standard bearer in the 200 IM and 100 fly.

The 100 fly was a gold mine for the NBAC last night. Third in the women's final went to Emily Goetsch, a 17-year-old teammate of Phelps who is a senior at Roland Park Country School.

At last year's Pan Pacific championships, Phelps helped the Americans to a world record in the 400 medley relay with the quickest 100 fly split ever, 51.13, but last night he complained of some subpar technique toward the walls.

"Everything went well except for the turn and the finish," Phelps said, who could have used another stroke at the end. "I jammed both walls, glided into both of them way too long. I cost myself a half second on each wall."

If you're doing the math, Australian Michael Klim's world record is 51.81. With the third-fastest performance ever, Phelps missed his American record of 51.88 by one-hundredth of a second. Takashi Yamamoto was .05 of a second behind. Canadian Mike Mintenko was third. Sixth went to Tommy Hannan, a Mount St. Joseph grad who got gold in the 2000 Olympics as a member of the U.S. 400 medley relay.

"We're running out of words to compliment Michael," Hannan said. "He's like any other premier athlete. He studies, works all aspects, finds his weaknesses and makes them better. It's kind of like what Tiger Woods has become. What do we do to beat him? If Tiger Woods wants to win a match, he's going to. Same with Michael."

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