After being queasy, Phelps takes it easy

Stomach illness, streak in past, he'll likely race 200 back, 100 free today


April 04, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - An order of bourbon chicken from a food court did what no swimmer in the world had been able to in the last eight months: take out Michael Phelps.

Suffering from a possible case of food poisoning, a weakened Phelps sat out day two of the Counsilman Classic yesterday. He plans to compete in the 200 backstroke and 100 freestyle today, and ease the sting of Friday, when he sustained a rare loss and withdrew from a second event at this USA Swimming Grand Prix meet.

"I feel much better," Phelps said last night, after his standard 2,400-meter warm-up. "I needed to see how I felt. Tomorrow [today] is a go."

Phelps arrived here tanned and ready after training the previous week in the Bahamas, but his visit soured at a mall eatery Thursday. On Friday, a long morning of preliminaries led to a nauseous evening final in the 200-meter freestyle.

At the 100 turn, Phelps began to vomit but stifled the reflex, making a supbar race poorer. After a surprise setback to Ryk Neethling of South Africa, Phelps withdrew from the 400 individual medley and returned to his hotel, where he was administered chicken soup and the comfort of his mother, Debbie.

He didn't get out of bed yesterday until 12:15 p.m. Other than watching SportsCenter at 8:30 a.m. for a half-hour, Phelps slept nearly 14 straight hours.

Famous for an iron gut that consumes as much as 8,000 calories a day, starting with a five- or six-course breakfast at a Waverly diner, Phelps couldn't stomach that bourbon chicken.

"I honestly feel it was something I ate," Phelps said. "I've never felt like that in a meet in my life, and I can never remember having to drop out of a race. It was good for me to get in the water and race under those conditions.

"Now, if something like this happens in a big meet, I'll know how to react. If it was the Olympic trials, I would have gone ahead and raced. The trials are a few months out, fortunately, and I'd rather have this happen now than then."

Phelps had planned to swim the 200 freestyle and 200 breaststroke yesterday. After he took ill, North Baltimore Aquatic Club coach Bob Bowman reverted to Plan B, which would have put him in only the 400 freestyle yesterday, but ruled that out after the two talked late Friday.

Phelps will go in the 200 backstroke and 100 freestyle today.

The loss to Neethling ended a 37-event unbeaten streak that spanned seven meets on three continents.

It stretched from last July 27 in Barcelona, Spain, where Phelps capped a historic performance at the FINA world championships with a world record in the 400 IM, to March 21 in Annapolis, where he posted the last of eight easy victories at the Maryland LSC Championships.

The streak included an unprecedented five titles at two USA Swimming national championship meets, a World Cup stop in Melbourne, Australia, and less exotic competitions at Auburn University and Loyola College.

"This reminds everyone how ultimately fragile this whole thing is," said Bowman, a reference to Phelps' lofty Olympic goals. "We make Michael out to be a machine, but he's human."

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