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Phelps shatters world record

He leads U.S. charge at world championships with a 1:43.86 in the men's 200 freestyle; Coughlin and Peirsol also establish marks.

March 28, 2007|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — No sooner had Kate Ziegler touched the wall in the 1,500-meter freestyle that a text message went speeding off from U.S. head coach Mark Schubert to a legendary swimmer.

"You're still the greatest," Schubert wrote.

Janet Evans could rest easy after Ziegler's inspired run on Tuesday at Evans' famous world record of 15 minutes 52.10 seconds, set in 1988. Ziegler, 18, was under world-record pace for 1,100 meters before finishing in 15:53.05, the third-fastest time in history.

It almost seemed as if Evans' mark was about the only one intact after records toppled like dominoes at the FINA World Championships. Four world records were erased with an amazing display of skill and strategy. Three record setters were Americans -- Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin and Aaron Peirsol -- and the other was Italian Federica Pellegrini in the semifinals of the women's 200 freestyle.

Coughlin joked, saying, "Yeah, they're stealing my thunder. No, I'm kidding. I don't care. I've been waiting to get a best time in the 100 back for so long, I'll take it, no matter how it looks."

Phelps triggered the record spree. He erased a mark largely thought to be untouchable, the 200 freestyle. It had been held by Australian icon Ian Thorpe (1:44.06), who set it in 2001 in Japan. Phelps attacked it with uncommon aggression, going out fast from the start, never letting Dutch star and former world-record holder Pieter van den Hoogenband into the equation, winning in 1:43.86.

"What amazed me was how he took Pieter out of it early and never gave him any encouragement during the whole race," Schubert said. "It was one of the best swam races tactically you could possibly see."

Said Phelps: "To be able to come in to Australia and to be able to take down that record was not unexpected but it wasn't really what I thought I was going to do tonight.

"I definitely didn't think I'd be the first man to break 1:44."

A few minutes after Phelps' performance, Coughlin broke her own world mark in the 100 backstroke, in 59.44. And while Van den Hoogenband, who finished 2.42 seconds behind Phelps, was doing interviews in the mixed zone, hailing Phelps, Peirsol stayed on message, breaking his own record in the 100 backstroke, going 52.98, winning by nearly half a second.

"Nice, nice," said Van den Hoogenband, who won the 200 meters at the 2000 Olympics.

It was one of those incredible nights where an American record was practically a footnote. And, of course, there was one.

Teenager Katie Hoff swam 1:57.29 in the semifinals of the 200 freestyle, erasing the mark of 1:57.41 set by Lindsay (Benko) Mintenko in 2003.

After the water stopped splashing in the lanes, there was a search for historical perspective. Was this the best single night for U.S. swimmers on a world stage?

Well, no.

Schubert immediately thought of a better one. There were four world records by U.S. swimmers at the Pan Pacific meet in Tokyo on Aug. 20, 1989: Evans in the 800 free, Tom Jager in the 50 free, Mike Barrowman in the 200 breaststroke and David Wharton in the 200 individual medley.

Phelps had hungered for another shot at the now-retired Thorpe in the pool, having finished third behind him and Van den Hoogenband at the Athens Olympics in 2004. So he had to settle for taking the world record away in Thorpe's house, and also moved past the legend with his 12th gold medal at the world-championship level.

"It was a challenge that was left for him," Markus Rogan of Austria said. "Because people kept saying Thorpe was better at his peak than Phelps at his peak. Now, no doubt that question is answered."

Said Phelps' coach Bob Bowman: "There are very few things that keep Michael excited. He holds the other records, he's just breaking his times. Sometimes, to try a new event or to try to do something, he's very excited to do that. That was one of the best records ever set, maybe the best."

And Bowman has been on hand for most of Phelps' records. This was his 17th individual world mark and only two men have held world records in five individual events, Phelps and Mark Spitz.

Peirsol thought the Thorpe mark may have been the "single most incredible record in the books."

"And he put it to rest," Peirsol said of Phelps. "Just by how many people have gone 1:44 and for him to go 1:33."

Peirsol was joking about the 1:33 and laughed, adding, "Pretty soon.... It's certainly one of those records. For me, it's up there with [Grant] Hackett's mile and [Ian] Crocker's 100 fly."

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

World Swimming Championships

Times staff writer Lisa Dillman's third- and fourth-day highlights from Melbourne, Australia:

And now, a word (or two) about those Americans setting world records on Day 3, the swimmers not named Michael Phelps:

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