His style cramped, Phelps still wins twice

Pool tests his turn skills

he gets 2nd 200 `fly' mark

November 29, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

MELBOURNE, Australia - At 6 feet 4 and 195 pounds, Michael Phelps is a 747 competing in a FINA World Cup better suited for Piper Cubs.

A prodigious wingspan and commensurate stroke length helped Phelps set eight world records in swimming this year, but all have come in Olympic-sized 50-meter pools.

The World Cup circuit is contested in short-course (25-meter) pools, where turn form is magnified. That is the Achilles' heel for the 18-year-old from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, but he thrives on work and will get double the turn load here.

Last night, Phelps unified the American records in the 200 butterfly under his banner, and followed up with another victory in the 100 individual medley. The only double winner on day one, Phelps went for another at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre today, in the 200 backstroke and 200 IM.

Overshadowed by the finals of tennis' Davis Cup across town, this three-day World Cup stop is nonetheless billed as the biggest swim meet in this city since the 1956 Olympics.

But fans expecting to see Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett, or Phelps continue the methodical assault on the record book that peaked at the world championships in July in Barcelona, Spain, were disappointed.

The Australian stars have withdrawn from the first two days of competition with an assortment of ailments. Phelps? He's game, but he's a slow starter who requires a long takeoff to get into the proper rhythm, and doesn't gain the boost that others do on turns.

"Short course is different," Phelps said. "My momentum gets killed on the walls, and I spend every lap trying to rebuild it. Walls are the weakest part of my races. They're better now than they were, for sure, but I have a lot of work to do."

With Phelps entered in six events here, he won't lack opportunity to hone that part of his form.

"His speed is much greater than his ability to change direction," NBAC coach Bob Bowman said. "That's where we're working, because that's where he can improve the most. He can get faster, but he can really pick up time on the wall."

In yesterday's 200 butterfly, Phelps forged a commanding lead in the first 50 over Australian Justin Norris, and cruised home in 1 minute, 52.27 seconds. That shaved .72 off the American record previously held by Olympic gold medalist Tom Malchow.

Phelps set the American mark for short-course yards - a distance contested primarily in the NCAA - in Annapolis last March. The most important link in his 200 fly trifecta came at the world championships in Barcelona.

In the 100 IM, a sprint not included in the Olympic program, Phelps had another handy win, in 53.30, .51 off Neil Walker's American record. NBAC training partner Kevin Clements was third in 54.84, three-tenths behind New Zealand's Kent Dean.

"Coming in, I was just trying to go out and have some fun," Phelps said. "In the 200 fly, I wanted to break the American record, so I was pretty happy with that. I wanted to see how close I could get to the [100 IM] record here, but that's my fastest time by a second."

NOTES: Emily Goetsch had the sixth-fastest qualifying time this morning in the 100 butterfly. She'll swim the final tonight. ... Phelps easily led qualifying this morning in the 200 backstroke, in 1:54.56, and the 200 IM, in 1:58.03; Clement was second fastest in 1:58.27. Phelps expected a challenge from fellow world record holder Matt Welsh in the 200 backstroke. ... NBAC import Marianne Limpert was seventh in the 400 IM, but her time of 4:43.79 was a personal best, not bad for a 31-year-old trying to make the Canadian Olympic team for a record fourth time.

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