Curtain to fall on Phelps' huge year at Loyola meet

He'll salute his roots in Christmas Invitational


December 12, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Nearly a month on the road expanded his international profile and bank account, but this weekend, Michael Phelps will soak in a low-key atmosphere.

Before he grew into the world's hottest swimmer, Phelps was just another little kid with big ears at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.

This year, he has broken records on three continents and become a budding Olympic celebrity, but his competitive calendar will conclude with a visit to those roots.

Phelps is the headliner in the NBAC's 30th Christmas Invitational, which runs today through Sunday at Loyola College (starting at 6:15 each evening). Teammate Marianne Limpert, who's gunning for her fourth Canadian squad, is the only other Olympian entered.

Phelps figures he first raced in the meet when he was 8, and the field of 600 is filled with age-groupers who want to be like Mike.

The 18-year-old returned to his Rodgers Forge home Monday night after a 25-day trip that checked in at five pools and just as many hotels.

He did research for Speedo in New Zealand, then dominated two meets in Australia, first in Sydney and then Melbourne. A few slower days in a Sydney suburb ended with a concert by rapper 50 Cent at the Superdome. Phelps spent Sunday night and Monday morning in California, publicizing the Olympic trials.

"By the time I got to Los Angeles, I just wanted to get on another plane and come home," Phelps said. "The best part of getting back was just walking through the door. It's nice to be able to share a meal with my mom, see my cat and just lay around my room."

It was a brief lull for Phelps. He is featured in ESPN magazine's current "Next" issue, and yesterday he penciled in an hour for Sports Illustrated.

Phelps earned more than $18,000 at the Qantas Skins and a FINA World Cup meet, and his earnings grew further with the announcement of an endorsement deal with Argent, a wholesale mortgage company.

The agreement runs through the 2008 Olympics and is worth an estimated $1 million.

Phelps will make appearances and advertisements for Argent, which will become a sponsor of USA Swimming and the world short-course championships next October in Indianapolis.

Argent is headquartered in Irvine, Calif. The 2004 Olympic trials will be held next July in nearby Long Beach, and Phelps stopped there on his return from Australia.

He spoke to the local convention bureau, checked out the facility where he could enter as many as five individual events and chalked "4:09.09," his world record in the 400-meter individual medley, on a parking lot.

That was one of eight world records produced by Phelps this year. All came in Olympic-sized (50-meter) pools. He established three American records in the short-course (25-meter) format in Melbourne.

As with most American colleges, Loyola's natatorium is 25 yards long. Phelps will use this weekend to gauge himself against the NCAA's seasonal bests.

Phelps holds one American record for short-course yards - 1 minute, 41.72 seconds in the 200 butterfly.

Today, he is entered in the 200 freestyle, 200 IM and 100 butterfly. Tomorrow, he will contest the 50 and 500 freestyles and 200 breaststroke. Sunday night, he is entered in the 1,650 freestyle.

"It's another opportunity to see what kind of times I can put up under stress," Phelps said.

The NBAC Christmas Invitational isn't just a homecoming for Phelps and the club's other veterans of international meets. It will also mark the first local appearance for Katie Hoff since the 14-year-old from Abingdon put together an eye-opening meet at the U.S. Open last weekend in Federal Way, Wash.

The home-schooled Hoff finished second in both the 200 and 400 IMs. Her 400 IM time, 4:45.82, was the fifth fastest by an American this year. In the 200 IM, she was beaten only by world champ Yana Klochkova. Hoff's time, 2:16.26, was a U.S. record for the 13-14 age group.

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