Phelps hits water like rock, recovers for win

Slip gives everyone scare before he rolls in 400 IM


May 22, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Michael Phelps took a bow and then a flop, but finished in his accustomed position.

The 37th annual Santa Clara International Invitational nearly got off to a disastrous start for the presumptive swim star of the 2004 Olympics. Phelps got a warm greeting during introductions for the 400-meter individual medley, then had his back foot slip on a slick starting block.

Instead of extending into the water for the butterfly leg, Phelps used more of a jackknife entry borrowed from Captain Klutz, an old Mad magazine character. The best thing about his start was that he didn't get injured, and he calmly moved from last off the blocks to first in the opening 50 and stayed there.

Phelps came home in 4 minutes, 14.98 seconds, more than two seconds in front of Erik Vendt, the silver medalist at the 2000 Olympics. Both broke a nine-year-old meet record.

"I went in all fours [arms and legs], face down, probably the slowest way possible to enter the water," said Phelps, who alluded to the upcoming pressure of the Olympic trials. "I've never slipped off a block like that before, and I'm glad that happened now instead of in six weeks."

His coach at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club chalked it up as a learning experience for the 18-year-old.

"I think he might be toweling his block [dry] from now on," Bob Bowman said. "I was predicting 4:12, and he would have had that if he hadn't slipped. He started from nothing. His ego is bruised more than anything else."

Phelps jogged from his warm-down to the awards stand, and not just because the ceremony started without him.

"It's cold in California," Phelps said. "Baltimore is warmer than this."

The thermometer read 62 degrees when they dived into the outdoor pool at the George F. Haines International Swim Center, unlike the conditions Phelps will face this summer.

Construction delays have pulled the plug on plans to put a roof over the Olympic pool, but to make amends for the afternoon sun in Greece, each evening's finals have been pushed back a half hour from their original start time. The manuevering is pertinent, because Athens in August is hot and muggy, unlike Silicon Valley in May.

With a world record of 4:09.09 and three of history's four fastest times, Phelps is the prohibitive Olympic favorite in the 400 IM. He'll face stiffer tests tonight, against Ian Crocker in the 100 butterfly and Aaron Peirsol in the 200 backstroke. The Texas teammates were the only men to beat Phelps during his historic 2003 campaign.

NOTES: Phelps is joined here by 15 NBAC teammates, the newest being Arizona State's Joey Clements, the younger brother of Kevin Clements. ... Katie Hoff, in her last meet as a 14-year-old, took fourth in the women's 200 breaststroke in a personal-best 2:31.76, and sixth in the 100 butterfly in 1:01.76. ... Jamie Barone is sitting out the meet with a sinus infection.

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