Put to test, Phelps wins 2 in Sydney

He's left spent, but earns $11,000

Thorpe scratches

Swimming

November 27, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

SYDNEY, Australia - Ian Thorpe complained, not without justification, of jet lag.

Michael Phelps did some flying, too.

Swimming's two biggest stars crossed paths yesterday in the Qantas Skins, a made-for-TV meet consisting of doctored events. The titans had been hastily matched the previous day in the anchor leg of what was supposed to be a climactic relay, but Phelps was glad that Thorpe scratched with fatigue, as the 18-year-old from Rodgers Forge was also running on empty by then.

"By the time I got to that relay, if Ian would have been in there, I would have been smoked even worse," Phelps said.

Phelps might have wobbled at the end, but he nonetheless reiterated the point made at his previous international meet, the world championships in Barcelona, Spain, where he set an unprecedented five world records.

He picked up where he left off last summer with a pair of wins that netted him $11,000 of the $125,000 (in Australian dollars, about $90,000 in U.S. dollars) prize money and a pair of stuffed kangaroos.

Thorpe, the 21-year-old local and national hero, arrived here earlier in the day after three weeks of training in the altitude of Flagstaff, Ariz.

Phelps also headed to bed, wiped out after winning the men's 50-meter butterfly sprint, which consisted of three rounds, with no more than 90 seconds' rest, and a grueling middle-distance freestyle, which used a point system broken into four races that totaled 400 meters, a distance at which Phelps is the American record holder.

A crowd of 6,113 gathered at the Sydney Aquatic Center for the seventh Qantas Skins, a record for the meet and the largest swim gathering here since the 2000 Olympics. That's when Phelps made his international debut as a 15-year-old and finished fifth in the 200 butterfly.

Ten Americans were invited to compete - four of them Phelps' North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammates - but he was the only one to collect a victory, let alone two.

Phelps won four of a possible five "Skins" - Grant Hackett held him off in the first round of the middle-distance freestyle, by 0.05 of a second.

Seeking to make amends for the opening leg of the 800 relay in Barcelona, when he was beaten by Phelps' American-record effort, Hackett won the starting 200 last night in 1 minute, 49.28 seconds, but it came with a price.

The reigning Olympic 1,500 champ wilted in the final three races of the middle-distance freestyle. Suffering from dehydration and a stomach bug, Hackett required an oxygen mask and medical attention.

He nonetheless moved on to the FINA World Cup in Melbourne, where Phelps will enter six events, starting with the 200 butterfly and 100 individual medley tomorrow.

Phelps followed his minor setback by winning the last three legs of the middle-distance freestyle. He covered the 100 in 52.98, then a pair of 50s in 24.64 and 24.35. Thorpe entered only the 50 freestyle sprint and, in the last of his three elimination races, won in 24.20.

"Michael's pretty good at this game," NBAC coach Bob Bowman said. "I said something to him about not using the dolphin kick in the 100, and he said he was saving it for the 50s."

The fastest all-around swimmer ever, Phelps received a lesser test to his stamina and range in the 50 butterfly sprint. He received a minor scare in that five-man event, in which he was third in the opening quarterfinal, where the two slowest were eliminated.

The suspense was short-lived as Phelps won the last two rounds by .51 of a second and 1.31 seconds over Australian Adam Pine.

That was Phelps' initial win in Australia. After his second, he got all of eight minutes of rest before the mixed-medley relay, in which he was handed a fourth place and stayed right there.

"Hands down, that was the worst relay start I have had in my career," Phelps said. "I was zonked at the start. My arms went one way and my body another. I tested my limit tonight, and I know where it is.

"Looking up and seeing screaming fans behind you, it's huge. It's so different from the States, and being back in this pool is a really good experience for me."

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