Atlas was too tired to shrug.
Michael Phelps concluded his competitive year last night in the North Baltimore Aquatic Club's 30th annual Christmas Invitational. He and coach Bob Bowman operate on a different calendar, one in which the New Year comes in August, and a sluggish Phelps showed the effects of a hectic month more than a hard 2003.
The world-record holder in the individual medleys and 200 butterfly, Phelps stretched out to the 1,650-yard freestyle at the Loyola College Natatorium. He won in 15 minutes, 16.32 seconds. Only three American collegians have gone faster this year, but Phelps went nearly 15 seconds faster in the same meet last year.
"Tonight's race might go on the books as one of the worst I've ever swum," said Phelps, who had breaking 15 minutes on his radar. "There's a reason I was put in there, to show me that I'm not in as good an aerobic shape as I was a year ago. The travel and the last two days of racing contributed to that."
One week ago today, Phelps was still making his way home from a trip to Australia. Last night's concluding 400 medley relay was his 19th event in as many days, starting with the Qantas Skins in Sydney, Australia, the night before Thanksgiving.
Jetlag probably made the stretch more debilitating than last summer's historic spin through the world championships in Barcelona, Spain, and the Summer Nationals in College Park.
"To be fair, he spent the last month not doing much aerobic training, and it's not as if the trip hasn't affected him," Bowman said. "He couldn't have been in better shape than he was last year at this time. When you train for speed, you lose endurance; that's inevitable. Now, we have to go back for three or four weeks and build his aerobic base, and he'll be fine."
Fatigue was evident across the board among the crew that went Down Under. Emily Goetsch, the reigning national champion in the 100-meter butterfly, scored a commanding win over Ashely Knapik and Courtney Kalisz in the 200 fly, but her time of 2:00.24 was three seconds off her personal best.
Katie Hoff, the 14-year-old rising star from the NBAC's satellite team in Harford County, got her fifth and sixth wins of the meet with personal bests of 2:00.48 in the 200 backstroke and 50.49 in the 100 freestyle. The 100 free also produced a personal best for Marianne Limpert as the 31-year-old Canadian went 50.68.