Phelps lowers 400 IM record

NBAC star just misses being first swimmer with 2-event world-record day

April 07, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - At 2:50 p.m. yesterday, the hardest-working man in the swim business was doing laps in the diving pool at the IUPUI Natatorium.

Was Michael Phelps cooling down or warming up?

"Yes," answered Bob Bowman, his coach, so imagine the trouble the swim world has grasping the comings and goings of Phelps, the 17-year-old from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club who continues to turn his sport upside down.

Bowman spoke in the middle of a 40-minute span in which Phelps lowered his world record in the 400-meter individual medley and came within .03 of a second of the 100 butterfly standard. No one has broken world swimming records in different events in the same day, and he supplied the Duel in the Pool against Australia with a needed jolt of electricity.

"If he had broken two world records, it would have been the most significant single session by any swimmer in history," Bowman said. "It still might be."

Phelps wasn't done, either. The only American to swim three individual events, he followed 94 minutes later with his most dramatic effort, as he made up .7 of a second in the final 50 of the 200 fly and caught reigning Olympic champion Tom Malchow with his last stroke. In his fourth event in less than three hours, Phelps handled the fly leg on the winning medley relay.

"Going in, I said this was going to be a test," Phelps said. "I think I passed."

In individual events, the victory tally read Australia 4, Phelps 3. The professional should receive an interesting reception when he lands in Sydney later this month to make some promotional appearances and train for three days with his Aussie counterpart, Ian Thorpe.

When the dual meet against the world's other dominant swim nation was conceived last year, Thorpe was the sport's undisputed king. The event turned out to be a 196-74 drubbing - Thorpe and many others stayed home with ailments real, and, according to some Americans, imagined - but Phelps' upward spiral has made for a great debate on the pool deck.

Phelps confirmed his ability to win four events at July's world championships in Barcelona, Spain, where Thorpe plans to challenge him in the 200 IM. In 15 months, they'll be in Athens, Greece, seeing who can come closest to matching the greatest feat in Olympic history, the seven gold medals won by American swimmer Mark Spitz in 1972.

"Sometimes I wish he was in my event, because he's an awesome competitor and I love to swim against people like that," Australian 1,500 freestyle legend Grant Hackett said of Phelps. "If I could advise him, it would be to focus on one or two events, because it nearly takes a world record to win an Olympic event."

What did Phelps think of that approach?

"I nearly got three world records today," Phelps said. "I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing."

The Duel in the Pool concluded six days of swimming here. Other than Phelps becoming the first American male to win events in three of the four strokes at the same championship meet, the Spring Nationals were bland. Few saw Phelps complete that triple Friday night, and yesterday he rewarded a crowd of 3,000 with the only world record of the gathering.

Highlights of the Duel in the Pool will be shown on NBC on Saturday and Sunday, when a national audience will get to view the fifth world-record swim of his career.

Strong fly and backstroke legs had Phelps nearly a second ahead of his world record pace midway through the 400 IM, where he lowered his standard to 4 minutes, 10.73 seconds. Afterward, he engaged in some finger-pointing. Phelps flung his right index finger to they sky as a reminder of who's No. 1, then acknowledged his mother, Debbie, and American teammate Erik Vendt, who pushed him to his first world record in the event at the 2002 Summer Nationals.

It was the first time his father, Fred, and sisters, Whitney and Hillary, had seen him swim a world record.

"It felt really good," Phelps told the crowd, "but I hurt a little bit."

After NBAC teammate Emily Goetsch, a late addition to the U.S. roster, scored a fourth-place point with a personal best of 59.78 in the women's 100 fly, Phelps drew lane six in the men's race. Out with shoulder surgery, Australia's Michael Klim watched Phelps scare his world record of 51.81, as an American-record 51.84 left Phelps holding his head in his hands at the close call.

In the 200 fly, Phelps was .73 of a second behind Malchow at the final wall, but caught him with a surge reminiscent of the push in the same pool that sent him to the 2000 Olympics as a 15-year-old. His time was 1:55.17, about a half-second off his world record.

The score with Australia had long been settled, but Phelps was included in a shot at the world record in the medley relay. The Americans fell .76 of a second late, and after his split of 51.61 on the 100 fly leg, Phelps crawled out of the pool.

"Even with the fatigue, he was the clear selection," U.S. men's coach David Marsh said.

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