Phelps wins 2 more golds

Swimmer sets 2 more world records, stands alone with 11 gold medals, most in history

Beijing 2008

August 13, 2008|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,Sun reporter

BEIJING - He was breathing hard. His muscles were screaming. His goggles were full of water and he couldn't see the walls. Michael Phelps was exhausted, and one of his competitors was closing fast. In the stands, his coach looked worried.

It didn't matter.

Phelps refused to let his historic quest slip away today at the Water Cube, summoning every ounce of energy that he had over the final 25 meters to hold on and win the 200-meter butterfly in a world record time of 1 minute, 52.03 seconds. With that victory, he became the all-time gold medal winner among Olympic athletes with 10.

"When I was on the awards [podium] for the 200 fly, I started thinking about it and that's when I started tearing up," Phelps said. "Being at the top, with so many great athletes who have walked in these Olympic Games, is a pretty amazing feeling."

Little more than an hour later, still weary from his first race, he managed to win his 11th gold, leading off the 800-meter freestyle relay for the United States with the second-fastest 200-meter freestyle ever (1:43.31). The Americans won easily, crushing the previous world record by more than five seconds with a time of 6:58.56.

In five events so far, Phelps has set or been a part of five world records. And, after today's swims, Phelps has earned more gold medals than any country besides the United States and China at these Games.

But it will be Phelps' gritty, blind win in the 200-meter butterfly that people will remember, especially if he wins gold in his final three events this week and breaks Mark Spitz's record for most gold medals in a single Olympics. Hungary's Laszlo Cseh finished second, .67 seconds behind, while Japan's Matsuda Takeshi won the bronze. Phelps stripped off his swim cap and chucked his Speedo goggles onto the pool deck after his finish, and had to rub his eyes for a few seconds before he could see his time.

"I dove in and [my goggles] just filled right up with water," Phelps said. "It got worse and worse through the race. Going into the 150 [meter] wall and the finish, I couldn't see the wall. I was just hoping I was winning and hoping I could get my hand on the wall first."

The same thing happened to Phelps at the 2007 FINA World Championships in the 200-meter individual medley, but he managed to set a world record that day as well.

He might go down in history as the only swimmer to set multiple world records without being able to see when it was time to touch the wall.

Towson's Katie Hoff set an American record in the 200- meter freestyle, but it wasn't enough to medal as the 19-year-old finished fourth. She also finished fourth in the 200-meter individual medley.

Phelps' march toward history seems almost inevitable at this point, and the marketing campaign to celebrate his achievements is already in full swing.

Seconds after the race, Visa broadcast a commercial congratulating Phelps on winning more gold medals than any other Olympian. Pictures of Phelps flashed across the screen - all of them toned the color gold - while actor Morgan Freeman narrated.

"He's competed against the past. He's competed against the history books. He's competed against time, expectations and everyone who came before him," Freeman said.

"But most of all, he's competed against himself. ... Congratulations, Michael, on having won more gold medals than anybody. Ever."

Phelps is so dominant in the 200-meter butterfly, he is essentially the Harlem Globetrotters to everyone else's Washington Generals.

He has won the event in 23 consecutive meets, major and minor, dating back six years. The last man to beat him was Tom Malchow in 2002 at the Pan Pacific Championships in Yokohama, Japan. Phelps was 17 years old, and lost by .02 second.

"It might be once in a century you'd see something like this," said American Aaron Peirsol. "The way he's attacking this meet - he's not just winning, he's destroying it - it's awesome to watch. It's inspiring to me."

The buzz Phelps has created has extended beyond swimming. Today at the pool, NBA players Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Jason Kidd were poolside, rooting on Phelps and the rest of the U.S. relay team. Debbie Phelps, Michael's mother, posed with them for photos. Midway through the 200 fly, Bryant was pumping his fists, urging Phelps on.

Though appreciated, he hardly needed it. Most swimmers need all the to planets align if they're going to break a world record. They need to be in peak condition, plus they need to get an added boost of adrenaline. Not Phelps. His coach, Bob Bowman, has an acronym he occasionally cites when talking about Phelps' mental approach to racing:

W.I.N. - What's Important Now?

"One thing that separates Michael from most people, if they don't feel good, they don't swim well," Bowman said. "Michael kind of performs independently of his feelings. I think he's practiced it over a long time. He knows exactly what he wants to accomplish, and he's able to just compartmentalize what's important."

Mentally, the Rodgers Forge native is much more relaxed at these Olympics than he was in 2004. It's difficult to even draw comparisons.

"I'm able to relax and I'm having fun," Phelps said. "That may be one of the reasons I'm swimming so fast. I've never been this relaxed. I've been through all this before, and that's one of the reasons I'm able to be like this."

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

What's next for Phelps

THURSDAY NIGHT

EVENT: 200-meter individual medley

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Once again, Ryan Lochte and Laszlo Cseh of Hungary will be Michael Phelps' closest competition. Phelps beat Lochte by nearly a half-second at the Olympic trials, but Lochte had just finished swimming the 200 backstroke 25 minutes before their race. Lochte, who holds a share of the world record in the 200 backstroke, will face the same challenge in the Olympic final, giving Phelps all the advantage he needs to pull away.

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