Phelps gets revenge, lesson in California

He tops Crocker in 100 fly, falls to Peirsol in 200 back

May 23, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Michael Phelps batted .500 last night in his bid to exact revenge on a pair of fellow world-record holders.

Things started superbly at the 37th annual Santa Clara International Invitational for the 18-year-old from Rodgers Forge, as he looked sharp in the 100-meter butterfly and handled Ian Crocker. An hour later, Aaron Peirsol jumped Phelps at the start of the 200 backstroke, leading by three-quarters of a second at the 50 wall and giving little of that back.

It was a big night for the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, as 14-year-old Katie Hoff announced herself as a serious candidate for an Olympic berth with an impressive victory in the 400 individual medley.

Teammates at Longhorn Aquatics in Austin, Texas, Crocker and Peirsol could be major obstacles in Phelps' quest to make Olympic history. They dealt Phelps the only defeats of his landmark 2003 campaign: Crocker upset Phelps at July's world championships and Peirsol beat him at this meet in June.

Accustomed to being chased by the swim world, Phelps went after men who own the world records in events in which he's No. 2 all time.

"That makes things fun," Phelps said. "I like to race the best. ... I've got a lot of opportunities. I've just got to look for the best ones."

Phelps has yet to choose his Olympic program. He'll only enter events in which he has a realistic shot at a gold medal, and he'll have to do better to catch Peirsol, 20.

"The more people push you, the more dynamic a race can be," Peirsol said when asked if he wants Phelps to stick with the 200 back. "He's proven he can do the race. If he's not there, I might win the Olympics, but I might not go faster."

He was timed in 1:56.95, Phelps in 1:57.58. Peirsol's world record is 1:55.15, which Phelps nearly topped in February.

Was the race lost in the first 50, which Peirsol covered in 27.91, compared with 28.65 for Phelps?

"Pretty much," said Bob Bowman, Phelps' coach. "He's got to be out faster. He didn't swim to what he's been training in that event. Both of his races tonight were credible, but he didn't have enough left in the tank for the 200 back."

Phelps slipped on the blocks in Friday's 400 IM and had a less-than-committed effort in yesterday morning's 100 fly preliminaries, but was solid in the final. He put himself in position to win when he hit the 50 wall just 11 hundredths of a second behind Crocker. It wasn't until the closing stages that he pulled away from the 21-year-old.

Phelps improved his own meet record to 52.39, the second-fastest time in the world this year behind his Spring Nationals title. Crocker was caught in 52.56.

Phelps faces an even more daunting tag team today when he swims the 100 freestyle, 200 IM and 100 backstroke, in succession. Crocker and Jason Lezak loom in the free, and Peirsol is the world champion in the back.

"Michael is a great target for a lot of people," said Crocker, sporting a beard he started during exam week at the University of Texas.

In the women's 400 IM, Hoff dipped to 4:39.82, a meet record and the fastest time by an American woman since 2001. She was seven seconds in front of Sara McLarty. Hoff also broke her own national record in the 13-14 age group.

"My coach talked about breaking 4:40," said Hoff, who turns 15 on June 3. "I just wanted to get my best time."

Hoff, who last summer moved from Virginia to Abingdon and began training with the NBAC's Harford satellite team, chopped more than two seconds off of the personal best she posted in a title-winning effort at February's Spring Nationals. Maggie Bowen is the only active American who has gone faster, and Hoff is closing on Summer Sanders' 12-year-old American record of 4:37.58.

"I wasn't sure she would get this fast this quick," said Paul Yetter, Hoff's coach.

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