Phelps finishes 1st meet of year with 3 more wins

No world records set, but he gets personal best in winning 100 backstroke

Swimming

January 19, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

AUBURN, Ala. - When he set seven world records in 41 days last summer, Michael Phelps spoiled the casual swim fan.

The cognoscenti understand the years of development that went into his rewriting a good chunk of the sport's record book. Phelps intends to go even faster this summer and star at the 2004 Olympics, but now he must be patient and add to the foundation of a grand design that is lost on some.

The 18-year-old from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club concluded his first meet of the Olympic year yesterday at the James E. Martin Aquatic Center. He helped the NBAC win the 400-meter medley relay over host Auburn and Southern California, then posted a personal best in winning the 100 backstroke and rolled in the 400 individual medley.

The 400 IM is one of the four events in which Phelps set world records last year. Yesterday's time was 4 minutes, 17.38 seconds, more than eight seconds slower than his world record. A friend of swimmer Maggie Bowen, an Auburn post-grad, was in the sparse crowd.

"One of Maggie's friends told me she skipped a nap to watch me swim," Phelps said. "She said, `Either give me back that hour I missed, or get back in the water and get a world record.' As much as I'd like to do that every time out, that's just not possible."

No one is harder to please in that area than Phelps, whose 2003 mantra mentioned swimming a personal best every time out. In addition to building his aerobic base and fine-tuning his strokes, this winter he must also learn how to bide his time.

"This weekend was the start of a very important year," Phelps said. "It's hard for me to stay patient and not get too excited, but I've got to hold back some now if I'm going to be doing it in another seven months [at the Olympics]. We've still got a half-year until the Olympic trials."

It was a workmanlike environment that Phelps and 17 NBAC teammates encountered here.

Collegians don't shave their bodies for dual meets, and neither did Phelps. He experimented, as did USC's Ous Mellouli, the world championship bronze medalist in the 400 IM who swam only freestyle here.

There were no preliminaries or semifinals to tax one's focus, but there were also fewer than 100 fans in the stands yesterday for a meet that grew out of a lunch conversation in Barcelona, Spain, last summer, when Auburn coach David Marsh and USC boss Mark Schubert, U.S. coaches at the world championships, extended an invitation to NBAC coach Bob Bowman.

"We haven't talked about that much," Bowman said of the adjustments Phelps must make as he attempts to improve upon standards only he has approached. "He knows that a key property of those peak performances isn't physical preparation, it's the emotion of the moment. A lot of that has to do with the environment. What does Michael always say? `I heard the crowd scream, and it made me go.' That's a big part of world-record swims.

"That said, he needed that personal best in the 100 backstroke, because that's what we're trying to do, get best times. It's nice to have some events that he hasn't swum much, so he can do that."

Though Phelps still hasn't cracked America's all-time top 25 in the 100 backstroke, he has five of history's 10 fastest times in the 100 butterfly, and his work on that leg set up a victory for the NBAC in the 400 medley relay. Kevin Clements (backstroke) and Jamie Barone (breaststroke) opened, and Cory Knapp finished with the freestyle.

Clements, who did his collegiate swimming for Auburn, and Barone went 1-3 in the 200 breaststroke.

Though the NBAC's five-man roster got thumped by both Auburn and USC, the club's women didn't need any divers to defeat USC, 170-155.

Emily Goetsch, a Roland Park graduate who will begin swimming for the Women of Troy next season, placed second in the 100 butterfly, where Auburn's Margaret Hoelzer nipped her by .03 of a second. The NBAC was boosted by the 200 breaststroke, where Katie Hoff, 14, and Kelly Peloquin, 15, a sophomore at McDonogh School, went 2-3.

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