Phelps is unstoppable

200 IM win is 3rd world record in 3 days

March 30, 2007|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,Sun Reporter

MELBOURNE, Australia -- This is how well things are going for Michael Phelps at the FINA World Championships: He broke his third world record in three days yesterday, and he did it nearly blind.

Phelps had a bit of a goggle issue on the last lap of the 200-meter individual medley final. His eyes were full of water. He couldn't see if American Ryan Lochte, his main competition, was right next to him, right behind him or right in front of him. He could only swim on instinct.

It wasn't until he touched the wall, peeled off his eyewear and looked around that he saw and understood what the rest of the swimming world was already well aware of. He had made history yet again.

Phelps won his fourth gold medal with a time of 1:54.98, which was .86 of a second faster than his previous world record, set in Victoria, British Columbia, at the Pan Pacific Championships last August.

It marked the sixth time the swimmer from Rodgers Forge has broken a world record in the 200 IM and the 19th time overall he has held an individual world record. The previous two days, Phelps set world marks in the 200-meter freestyle (1:43.86) and the 200-meter butterfly (1:52.09).

"I'm definitely getting in the groove a little bit more," Phelps said. "I'm feeling a lot, lot better in the water, and I'm racing better. I've done four best times in back-to-back-to-back days, and it's been since 2003 since I've done that. But I'm only halfway done."

Phelps appears to be in such a groove, it would have almost been a disappointment had he not set a world record. He didn't even bother to smile when he saw his time. He simply put his left hand in the air and gently shook his fist in mild celebration. Lochte was right with Phelps at 150 meters, but Phelps, as usual, exploded off the final wall to win easily.

"I was hoping to God that [Lochte] wasn't going to do a farther kick-out than I was, because that would have made the race a lot more interesting," Phelps said.

Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, said the 200 IM was the one race this week in which he thought Phelps would and should break a world record.

"It was a very good race because he was so closely challenged," Bowman said. "Probably of the races he's swam so far, I think there is more room for improvement [in the 200 IM], which is nice."

In retrospect, it should have been obvious from the first night that Phelps was going to dominate this week. On the opening leg of the 4 x 100-meter relay, Phelps touched the wall in 48.42 seconds, giving the U.S. team an early lead en route to winning gold.

Yesterday, Filippo Magnini of Italy and Brent Hayden of Canada tied for the gold in the 100-meter freestyle. Their winning time was 48.43 seconds, a hundredth of a second slower than what Phelps swam in his leg Sunday.

Bowman said Phelps' program is already too full to even think about adding the 100 meters (at least right now). But the fact that Phelps could finish this week with six individual gold medals, multiple world records, and have swum the fastest 100 meters of anyone at the world championships is almost mind-boggling.

"I've always said anything is possible if you put your mind to it," Phelps said. "I've had a good attitude coming into this week, a good attitude throughout and I've been successful. So I guess I stick with what works."

All around Rod Laver Arena, Phelps' accomplishments had other swimmers shaking their heads in awe.

"He's such a phenomenon. He's like a mutant or something," said American Tara Kirk, a breaststroke swimmer. "He's just going for best times now, and they happen to be world records."

Phelps admitted yesterday that he realized he might be poised to do something special this week about the time he broke the 200-meter butterfly world record at the Missouri Toyota Grand Prix a month before the world championships.

"Being able to set the 200 fly world record with a full goatee and hair coming out of my cap, and not in a strong racing state, was something that surprised me and shocked me a little bit," Phelps said. "Right then and there, I thought that something special could happen this year, and these past four races have been a slight indication of that."

After Phelps set the 200 IM record, a reporter confessed to Bowman that the media were running out of superlatives with which to describe Phelps.

"Tell me about it," Bowman said. "I am, too."

kevin.vanvalkenburg @baltsun.com

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