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Smooth Sailing for Phelps

He wins fourth gold medal and sets two Olympic records in less than an hour. He could add to his haul in today's 100 butterfly final.

August 20, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — Michael Phelps won another swimming gold medal, this one in the 200-meter individual medley, running his total at the Summer Games to four gold and two bronze. He also set two Olympic records in a span of about 40 minutes.

Yet, he wasn't even the most intriguing story at the Olympic Aquatic Complex on Thursday because of U.S. teammate Aaron Peirsol's on-again, off-again, on-again victory in the 200 backstroke.

Phelps was his usual smoothly efficient self in winning the 200 IM in 1 minute 57.14 seconds, breaking the Olympic record he'd set the day before and joining seven-time gold medalist Mark Spitz as the only swimmers to have won three individual gold medals at one Olympics.

He easily outdistanced teammate Ryan Lochte of Gainesville, Fla., who was second in 1:58.78, and George Bovell of Trinidad and Tobago, third at 1:58.80.

After his triumph, Phelps dashed out of the water and through the interview area, reported back to the pool deck for the medal ceremony and then prepared for his semifinal heat of the 100-meter butterfly.

He not only won that as well, but his time of 51.61 seconds broke the Olympic record of 51.74 Andriy Serdinov of Ukraine had set in the first heat.

"He just handles himself so well," Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, said after the 19-year-old swimmer's busy night had ended.

"While we were waiting, the coach standing next to me said, 'He's the only guy in the world that can do this.' I said, 'Let's wait and see if he can do this,' and the coach said, 'He's the only guy in the world who'd think about doing this.'

"I can't make you [reporters] understand the demands on him."

The physical and emotional toll on the Baltimore native seemed minimal Thursday.

"I'm having so much fun. I'm at the Olympic Games," he said. "It can't get much better than this."

Actually, it can.

Phelps is pursuing two prizes in today's 100 butterfly final -- as is teammate Ian Crocker, who qualified with the third-fastest time, 51.83.

The first prize is the gold, but the extra incentive is that the faster swimmer will get a spot on the U.S. 400 medley relay.

That could be Phelps' eighth medal in eight finals, which would tie him with Soviet gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin for the most medals won at one Olympics. Dityatin won his medals at the 1980 Moscow Games, which were boycotted by the U.S.

He said he was recovering "fairly well" from his exertions -- and he's certainly not tired of winning.

"No way. This is the greatest feeling in the world," he said. "Standing on the podium, hearing the national anthem play, there's nothing better."

Natalie Coughlin of Concord, Calif., won a bronze medal in the 100 freestyle and completed her set of medals, having won gold in the 100 backstroke and 800 relay and silver in the 400 freestyle relay.

Jodie Henry of Australia swam slower than the world record she had set in Wednesday's semifinal but won the 100 freestyle in 53.84.

Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands, the Sydney gold medalist, was second at 54.16, 0.05 ahead of Coughlin. Kara Lynn Joyce of the U.S. was fifth, at 54.54.

"I don't think a bronze medal is a failure," Coughlin said. "Maybe other people do, but I don't look at it like that."

Jason Lezak and Gary Hall Jr. advanced to the final of the 50 freestyle with times of 22.12 and 22.18, respectively, the third- and fifth-fastest times.

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