Phelps' golden touch beats Crocker again in fly

Record-holder a close 2nd

Hoff wins women's 400 IM

Swimming

April 04, 2005|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - Baltimore's Michael Phelps stood on the starting platform and slapped his arms front and back, as limber as a seal, eager to take on the man standing beside him in Lane 5.

Ian Crocker, the world and American record-holder in the 100-meter butterfly - the event they were about to swim - was in his ready position, totally still, his eyes focused on the water.

"I knew I had to get out fast," Crocker said. "But I was a little slow. I know when I'm racing Michael I have to have a lead at the end of the first 50 meters. I had that. But the timing at the finish is something I've got to work on."

At the finish last night in the U.S. World Championship Trials, Phelps snatched victory - stretching out a long, slender arm and touching the wall to finish a blink of the eye before Crocker.

"I jammed the finish into the wall a little bit," said Phelps, whose time of 51.34 seconds was just 0.2 of a second off his best time in the event and was .11 faster than Crocker's.

The times were not records or personal bests for either man, but no one besides these two swimmers has ever achieved last night's winning time.

The two have been strong rivals since Crocker beat Phelps at the 2003 world championships and again at the 2004 Olympic trials, where he lowered his world record to 50.76. Phelps responded by out-reaching Crocker at the Olympics to win the gold medal.

"When I race Ian, I always feel I have to be at a certain place - within a half-a-body length coming off the [50-meter] wall," Phelps said. "I saw him come off the wall and I was close.

"I love to race Ian. I think the friendship we share and the competitiveness we feel makes it that much more exciting."

Abingdon's Katie Hoff also thrilled the audience at the Indiana University Natatorium. Like Phelps, her former North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammate, she won for the third time in three days, this time beating American record-holder Kaitlin Sandeno, by more than 2.5 seconds, 4 minutes, 39.25 seconds to 4:41.87 in the women's 400 individual medley.

"I think the 400 IM was weighing me down all weekend," said Hoff, who did not swim a personal best time for the first time in this meet. "It's a huge relief to have it over. All the pressure is off."

During the race, Hoff, 15, was swimming ahead of Sandeno's record performance from 100 meters through 250 meters before slowing. She said she did not know she was swimming at a record pace, though she did hear the crowd cheering.

"But if I'd known," she said, "I don't think it would have made any difference. I was pushing as hard as I could. I just got tired over the final 150."

Sandeno, an Olympic silver medalist in the 400 IM, voiced relief at claiming an individual spot on the U.S. national team that will compete in the world championships in Montreal later this year. But then she went on to describe these trials as "stupid."

She said the country's best swimmers are either not in condition or taking a break from the sport after the Olympics. "You're not going to pick our best team," she said. "But you are seeing a lot of young people coming in and doing well."

But Phelps and Crocker were pushing as hard as they could last night. As the two pulsed toward the finish line, with Phelps' arms rising out of the water moments before Crocker's on each rotation, the crowd rose to its feet and cheered them on. The drama continued over the final 50 meters until Phelps' hand hit the wall under the water, just before Crocker's rotated to the finish through the air.

"I feel like the normal Michael tonight," Phelps said. "I'm starting to feel like the old man again. I haven't felt anything in my back at all. Coming in, I wanted to be very cautious. ... Now, three days racing with no problems ... I'm smiling more. I'm happier. I missed racing the long course. All I wanted to do was jump in the water and go."

Phelps and Hoff are each planning to compete in two preliminary events this morning - Phelps in the 100 freestyle and 200 IM and Hoff in the 200 butterfly and 200 backstroke. Both said they will review their positions after morning qualifying and decide what their evening program will be.

NOTES: Navy's Aubra Thomas won her preliminary heat for the women's 100-meter breaststroke in 1:14.62, but was 33rd fastest overall and failed to qualify for the finals. ... North Baltimore Aquatic Club swimmer Michele King, 16, was the eighth and last qualifier for the A-final of the women's 50-meter freestyle and finished sixth, improving her preliminary time of 26.14 to 25.97.

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