Back injury forces Phelps' early exit

Indianapolis withdrawal comes after he, doctors cast votes for caution


October 09, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - Olympic champion Michael Phelps sat glumly while Dr. Jim Johnson said the six-time gold medal winner was being withdrawn from the remaining events at the 7th FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships.

"Michael has a slight back injury going on and we don't want to risk worsening it over the next three days," said Johnson, medical director for U.S. Swimming. "He's 19 years old with a long career ahead of him, and we don't want to take any undue risks with his health."

Exactly what is going on with Phelps' back was not made clear.

When he arrived Wednesday, he said he had struggled with a muscle strain during the just-completed, post-Olympic Disney Swim with the Stars tour. But his coach, Bob Bowman, said therapy had made the back a non-issue. And Thursday, Phelps started strong, setting a national record of 1:43.59 in the 200-meter freestyle final.

But afterward, he was obviously spent, and yesterday morning Johnson said Phelps' back had "tightened up," forcing him to scratch from the 400 individual medley.

Last night, when the announcement of Phelps' withdrawal from the meet was made, neither Johnson nor Phelps was specific about the problem.

"I've been hurting the last week and a half or so," Phelps said. "We had been working with physical therapists on the West Coast. ... Coming in here, I felt decent, but I've been traveling the last three months. It's just a long time to be on the road and I just think a lot of things are catching up to me.

"I don't want to be specific, other than to say it is my back. I'd just like to get home and see my physical therapist and my doctor."

Johnson said he consulted with Phelps' doctor, Peter Rowe, a renowned sports medicine physician at Johns Hopkins, before making the decision.

Phelps came to the arena last night intending to take part in the 800 relay, but then decided to follow the advice of his doctors.

"It could hurt my future," he said. "I really don't think it's a big deal, but my sister was a world-class swimmer and had back injuries and it put her out of swimming, so we want to be extra cautious right now.

"You can tell I'm very disappointed," he said. "I came in [Thursday] night and swam as hard as I could and did the best I could ... but we have a team out there that can [advance the sport] ... and anyone who watches this meet will see first-hand what USA Swimming can do."

As if to back up Phelps' confidence, American Aaron Peirsol set a championship record of 50.72 in the men's 100 backstroke final in the 25-meter pool at Conseco Field House, and U.S. swimmer Ian Crocker won gold in the 100 butterfly.

The 400 IM was won by Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia in 4:07.02. Great Britain's Francis Robin was second and American Eric Shanteau was third.

"Without Michael in there, it makes it less of an intimidating field," said Shanteau. "His whole aura makes it intimidating. So without him, we were kind of all right there together."

Phelps' mother, Debbie, had no doubt her son will be back intimidating others soon.

"He's going to be wonderful once we get him home and into the right hands," she said.

Maryland's Katie Hoff continued her strong performances, winning her qualifying heat in the women's 100 IM with a time of 1:01.75 and following that up with the sixth-best time in last night's semifinals, 1:01.72, to earn a place in tonight's final.

"I haven't competed in an IM since I was 12," said Hoff, 15. "To make the final is really fun."

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