Phelps keeps rocking

Posted: Sunday, August 10, 2003

COLLEGE PARK, Md. Michael Phelps set another world record, punched the air several times and pointed to his head, an unusual show of emotion from the 18-year-old Baltimore native.

Was he celebrating the end of a phenomenal season? No, he was simply thrilled to win a bet with his coach, who now has to get his head shaved.

Phelps swam the 200-meter individual medley in 1 minute, 55.94 seconds Saturday night at the U.S. championships, cutting one-tenth of a second off the mark he set at the world championships at Barcelona on July 25.

It was also better than the 1:56 time involved in his bet with coach Bob Bowman. Phelps' first words to his coach after the race were: ''It's gone. It's gone.''

''That was a big motivator going into tonight,'' Phelps said. ''I have the little things that really push me. ... One of my teammates pulled out a set of clippers, a razor and some shaving cream, so we're ready.''

Bowen said he didn't expect Phelps to beat the time, but he'll carry through with the bet.

''I was hoping it would be 56.01 or something,'' Bowen said.

It was the fourth time Phelps has set the world record in the event this year. Since late June, he has progressively lowered by more than 2 seconds a mark that had stood since 1994.

Phelps had warned before the race not to expect another record because he would be tired from a grueling schedule of 23 races in 19 days, including five world records at the world championships.

''I think I shocked myself tonight, for sure,'' he said.

With the victory, Phelps became the first man to win five individual events at a national championships. He also won the 100, 200 and 400 freestyle races as well as the 200 backstroke at the weeklong event. He set a personal best in all five events and set American records in the 400 freestyle and the 200 backstroke.

Tracy Caulkins (1978) and Natalie Coughlin (2002) are the only other Americans to win five individual races at the nationals. Phelps shared the men's record of four with Johnny Weismuller, Mark Spitz and Tom Dolan.

Phelps' performance in his final race was just as stunning, even though it was a losing cause. He made up a huge deficit in the butterfly leg of the 400 medley relay and handed off a 2-second lead, but his North Baltimore team finished third when the anchor couldn't hold off the field.

The big winner in the women's events was Kaitlin Sandeno, who won the 200 individual medley in a championships-record 2:12.97, her third title of the week.

Buoyed by the crowd and by his bet, Phelps started faster than usual in the 200 meter individual and led the field by a full length after a butterfly leg of 25.15 seconds, a change from his usual strategy of even pacing throughout the race.

''There are certain times and places for this,'' Phelps said. ''Right now, being at the end of this season, that's a pretty good strategy. But if I had done that at the worlds, it would have come back and haunted me.''

Phelps now gets a well-deserved break from racing, with his next competitive meet scheduled for November in Australia.

That doesn't mean he'll take a break from swimming, though. He said he'll take maybe four or five days off before resuming his preparations for Athens.

''I guess I'm kind of antsy when I spend too much time out of the water,'' he said.

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