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ATHENS 2004

Mr. Bold, Mr. Gold

Phelps edges out Crocker in 100 butterfly for fifth gold, then gives up final relay spot

August 21, 2004|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — In the span of one dramatic, historic, emotional evening Friday at the Olympic Aquatic Center, Michael Phelps caught Ian Crocker, the man he has been chasing for a year, beat him by the length of his outstretched fingers to win his fifth gold medal and seventh overall of these Olympics, then magnanimously handed Crocker his own opportunity of a lifetime, the chance to exact some sweet revenge for himself.

By evening's end, Crocker was teary-eyed, his biggest race still before him, Phelps was all smiles, his unforgettable participation in the 2004 Olympics behind him, while the swimming world was left stunned by the unexpected flip-flop.

After coming from behind to nip Crocker at the wall in the 100-meter butterfly, winning in an Olympic-record time of 51.25 seconds to Crocker's 51.29, Phelps announced he was giving his spot in today's 400 medley relay to Crocker.

Andriy Serdinov of Ukraine won the bronze in 51.36

Crocker's poor performance leading off the 400 freestyle relay Sunday resulted in a third-place finish for the U.S. It was later revealed that he was suffering from a sore throat. Crocker didn't swim in Friday's preliminaries for today's relay because his coach, Eddie Reese, advised him to sit out. But now he will be in the final, replacing Phelps, whose spot was guaranteed based on his 100 victory Friday.

Riding on the outcome of today's relay is not only another opportunity for U.S. gold, and Crocker's first shot at gold, but also Phelps' chance to win an eighth medal, surpassing Mark Spitz for the highest total by a swimmer in Olympic history. Phelps' four individual golds equal the mark Spitz set in the 1972 Munich Games. Phelps would win a medal for the relay because he swam in the preliminaries Friday.

"I am willing to give Ian another chance," Phelps said. "He wasn't feeling well [Sunday], but he's feeling better and better every day. Ian is one of the best relay swimmers in U.S. history. We want to put the four fastest guys up there and we are going to have the four fastest guys out there. With Ian, we think we have an opportunity to win.

"We came into this meet as a team and we are going to leave as a team."

Crocker is the world-record holder in the 100 butterfly.

Reese said he wasn't about to take Phelps' spot away from him.

"It had to come from Michael," the coach said. "Whatever it is in his heart, that's what he should do. I think it's a hell of a gesture. But if I didn't think we would have the fastest team this way, I wouldn't have let Michael do it."

Phelps and Reese made the announcement of the surprise switch during a post-race news conference. Crocker, undergoing mandatory drug testing, was not present.

But they sent the University of Texas star a message: "Get in the water and start training."

Crocker was informed of Phelps' decision by Everett Uchiyama, the national team director for USA Swimming.

"I feel it is a decision only Michael could make," Crocker said. "It feels good to know the coach had nothing to do with it. It's a huge gift, difficult to accept. It makes me want to just go out and tear up the pool.

"I was just speechless when I came out of drug testing," Crocker said of hearing he was on the relay team. "I kind of teared up. I couldn't be more proud, and I will do everything I can to make him feel he made the right choice."

Phelps has been thinking about Crocker for a year, but not in a sentimental way. Obsessed would be a better way to describe it. A year ago, Crocker beat Phelps in the 100 butterfly at the world championships in Barcelona, Spain, the only loss suffered by Phelps last year.

Phelps hung a magazine cover featuring Crocker in his room in his mother's townhouse in suburban Baltimore and counted the days until he could get another shot at his rival.

For much of Friday's race, it appeared the poster boy would have his way again. Phelps was fifth at the turn.

"I saw his feet," Phelps said of Crocker, who seemed to have a secure lead.

But down the stretch Phelps came, close enough to stretch out his long arm and touch the wall barely ahead of Crocker.

"It totally came down to a touch," Phelps said.

"I knew it was going to come down to the last few inches," Crocker said, "but I didn't know who won until I looked up and saw the scoreboard. I didn't see Michael coming, but I knew he was going to be there."

And he certainly didn't see Phelps' offer coming, either.

*

Gary Hall Jr. won gold for the U.S. in the 50 freestyle with a time of 21.93, followed by Duje Draganja of Croatia (21.94) and Roland Schoeman of South Africa (22.02).

Ai Shibata of Japan won the women's 800 freestyle, an event won by Americans in five consecutive Olympics. Laure Manaudou of France got the silver, with Diana Munz of the U.S. beating out teammate Kalyn Keller for the bronze.

Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe won her third medal of the Games, getting gold in the 200 backstroke. Russia's Stanislava Komarova took silver, with the bronze shared by Reiko Nakamura of Japan and Antje Buschschulte of Germany.

* (BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Chasing eight

Michael Phelps, who won the 100-meter butterfly Friday--his fifth gold medal of the Games--still will be eligible for eight medals, even though he pulled out of the upcoming 400 medley-relay to allow a teammate to compete. Phelps swam in the preliminaries of the event and technically is on the medley relay team.

Phelps event Medal Individual 200M Freestyle Bronze 100M Butterfly Gold 200M Butterfly Gold 200M Ind. Relay Gold 400M Ind. Relay Gold

Relays 400 Freestyle Bronze 800 Freestyle Gold 400 Medley

Source: nbcolympics.com

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