Phelps edges Lochte in 200 IM

Furious finish nets 4th-fastest time in history



IRVINE, Calif. -- Michael Phelps got out of the pool last night after the 200-meter individual medley and admitted, without hesitation, that he was hurting.

His legs were tired, his arms were sore, and his lungs were still burning.

None of it mattered that much, however. Because for the fifth time during this week's U.S. National Championships at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center, Phelps was a winner.

It wasn't easy. In fact, it was probably Phelps' toughest race this year. Even though his time of 1:56.50 was the fourth-fastest 200 IM in history, Phelps needed a furious finish to get to the wall ahead of Ryan Lochte, who swam the sixth fastest time ever at 1:56.78. Eric Santeau was third with a time of 1:58.05.

Yet close as it was, it was simply another classic Phelps performance, one he has duplicated numerous times this week. The rest of the field may have narrowed the gap somewhat in Phelps' strongest events, but nobody in the world turns it on during the final 20 meters like the 21-year-old Rodgers Forge native, who now swims for Club Wolverine in Michigan.

"It hurt, but those [races] are supposed to hurt," Phelps said. "With the three of us swimming as fast as we did tonight, those being the top three times in the world this year, hopefully that sends a message in this event. Hopefully we can keep bringing the time standards down even farther. ... This was faster than I went in the Olympics and faster than I went last summer, so I'm definitely pleased."

For much of the race, it looked as if Phelps might have a real shot at the world record time he posted in 2003 in College Park at the U.S. Nationals. The capacity crowd got louder and louder each time he touched the wall, and pleaded for him to go faster as he started to fade during the final 60 meters.

It set the stage for a thrilling finish, as Lochte, who won a silver medal in the 200 IM at the 2004 Olympics, reeled Phelps in until they were dead even with 25 meters left.

"I knew going into the race it was going to come down to the last leg," Lochte said. "It just came down to who wanted it more. The day will come, hopefully. It's just a matter of time."

"We've battled it out in that event, and it's getting closer and closer," Phelps said. "I don't know how he feels, but it hurts pretty bad for me right now."

It was somewhat of a disappointing day for Courtney Kalisz, the 16-year-old from Bel Air who swims for North Baltimore Aquatic Club. Kalisz, one of America's fastest in the 200-meter butterfly, looked good in the morning, qualifying second with a time of 2:10.53. But in the final, she was the slowest swimmer into the pool and never really recovered, finishing fourth with a time of 2:11.02.

"I was aiming to make the world championship team, but it didn't happen," Kalisz said. "I was still pleased with my result. It's giving me hope for the [Olympic] trials in '08, because that's really what I'm aiming for."

Today's final day of competition offers a few compelling story lines, none perhaps more intriguing than Phelps's attempt to steal the 200-meter backstroke national title. Phelps rarely swims the event, but decided he wants to see where he stacks up against Lochte and Aaron Peirsol, the two fastest backstrokers in the world.

"It's going to be exciting," Phelps said. "Peirsol is the long course world record holder and Lochte is the short course world record holder. Hopefully I can throw myself in there and make it a good race."


Today's races

Michael Phelps

200-meter backstroke -- Not one of Phelps' typical events, but he wants to try to give world record holder Aaron Piersol a race. A win here would be a huge upset.

Katie Hoff

100-meter freestyle -- Hoff is getting faster in this stroke, but isn't quite in Natalie Coughlin's class yet. Top three would be a good finish.

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