Simulating Olympic routine, Phelps shows mettle

He sets no world marks but has 3rd two-title day


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

MELBOURNE, Australia - Five days, eight events, just as many victories.

Isn't that what Michael Phelps dreams of pulling off in Athens, Greece, next summer?

The routine of the hottest swimmer in the world is designed to include the kind of demands that go into a quest that could bring him Olympic fame, and Phelps has enjoyed little down time since Wednesday.

He began his haul with two victories in Sydney at the Qantas Skins, and concluded that two-title-per-night rate yesterday here on the third and final day of the FINA World Cup stop.

Some World Cup meets are contested over two days instead of three, so no one from the sport's world governing body made a big deal of Phelps' six wins, even though Australia's Petria Thomas was the only other competitor to win as many as three.

For the first time since May, Phelps left a meet without any world records, but he did post six personal bests in the short-course (25-meter pool) format, and there was a sense of mission accomplished for the 18-year-old from Rodgers Forge and the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.

Phelps said that his turns were "horrible" in the 100 butterfly, where his American-record time was 51.11 seconds, .41 ahead of Ben Michaelson, who also bettered the U.S. mark he set last year.

Less than 50 minutes later, Phelps made it five wins in a row for the Americans, as he ruled the 400 individual medley in 4:06.28, more than a second off the U.S. record and more than five off the world standard. Nicolas Rostoucher of France was second, nearly three seconds behind Phelps.

Was he fatigued by then?

"A little bit," Phelps said. "I was feeling it at the end of the 400 [IM]. This is a little step we've reached, something we're working toward. Hopefully we'll improve between here and Athens. We've been working on that the last few years, swimming as many events as I can back-to-back. This summer, the program I did was stressful both physically and mentally."

Phelps alluded to his unprecedented world championship meet in Barcelona, Spain, where he became the first swimmer to set five world records in one meet, and the first male to set two in separate events in the same day.

After several weeks of altitude training in Arizona, Australian Ian Thorpe complained of jet lag and finished only the 50 freestyle, taking fifth. Fellow Australian Grant Hackett took ill at the Skins, and didn't compete here. Disappointed by the inability of their top two stars to perform, the crowds at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre saw Phelps push on.

"His times are so much better than they were a year ago," coach Bob Bowman said. "We'd love to have a [world short-course] record, but he had never had an American record before, and now he has three. Understand, I'm not trying to have him swim fast here. We did as much work as we could for three months, and this is the first meet back."

It's not like Phelps was babied, either. Last night, Bowman shortened his warm-up for the 100 butterfly, from 90 minutes to an hour. Phelps didn't sleep well Saturday night, but Bowman made him hang around the pool longer than is customary after the preliminaries yesterday morning, delaying a much-needed nap.

"Instead of going out of my way to make everything great, I deliberately made some things not so well," said Bowman, who earned a $4,000 bonus for having the top male point-getter. "I told our driver to come over later than normal, to practice what might happen if we didn't have enough time for the standard warm-up. If he had to sit in the lobby of the hotel a little longer, fine. If the meal wasn't perfect, fine."

There was no letup today. Phelps was back at the pool at 5:30 a.m., conducting a clinic for Speedo. His schedule included an hour interview with a TV network based in Tokyo, and a guest appearance at tonight's Australian Swimmer of the Year Awards. After five days of training in a Sydney suburb, Phelps will return to the States, where he will lay over in Southern California to promote July's Olympic trials in Long Beach.

Back in Baltimore, Phelps will enter nine events, three each day, in the NBAC Christmas meet Dec. 12-14 at Loyola College.

Packing was a problem. Along with a first-place check of $1,500, Phelps received five blenders and a mixer during the awards. The appliances were distributed to his driver, massage therapists and other workers. He may carry on the stuffed kangaroos he was given in Sydney. The cash prizes - totaling $9,000 here and $11,000 Australian at the Skins - will definitely come home.

NOTES: NBAC teammate Marianne Limpert was fifth in the 200 individual medley, which was won by Amanda Beard. Other American winners last night were Ed Moses in the 200 breaststroke, Lindsay Benko in the 200 freestyle and Jason Lezak, who bested Thorpe and six other Australians in the 50 freestyle.

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