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BEIJING 2008

Phelps dives right in

U.S. swimmer captures his first gold in emphatic fashion, lowering his world mark in 400-meter IM.

August 10, 2008|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- He was ready to sing, and really let it fly from the medal podium, but something blocked the way and stopped that grand plan.

Tears.

It was the only thing coming close to trumping Michael Phelps today at the Water Cube, and if his world record-setting performance in the 400-meter individual medley was any indication, it might be the only thing to do so in the nine-day Olympic swimming program.

Phelps took his first step to a potential eight gold medals, which would eclipse Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven in one Olympics. He did it in emphatic fashion, winning the 400 individual medley in 4 minutes 3.84 seconds. Four years ago, he won eight medals in Athens, six of them gold, including this event.

He lowered his world mark by an incredible 1.41 seconds, and in front of President Bush, no less. Phelps said that he looked into the stands after the race and that Bush nodded and waved the American flag, and that he waved back.

Laszlo Cseh of Hungary was second in 4:06.16, and Phelps' U.S. teammate and rival, Ryan Lochte, took the bronze in 4:08.09.

Phelps first said that he had no idea why he cried so much.

That was about the only unanswered question.

"I don't know why. I said to Bob [Bowman], I wanted to sing on the medal podium, but I couldn't stop crying," Phelps said about talking to his coach later.

But he had some theories. There was the broken wrist in the fall of 2007 and then the emergence of Lochte. "Ryan's coming on like a freight train," Phelps said.

Here, Phelps was the freight train, blowing away the field in the last 200 meters. His forceful response was a necessary one.

"I wasn't comfortable after the first 200, seeing everybody so close together," he said. "It's usually not how it is after the first 200. I think it made my breaststroke a lot stronger. And at that point, coming home in the freestyle, it's all adrenaline."

Said Cseh: "Any time you think you can get close to Michael Phelps, he jumps to another level."

For the hype about Phelps versus Lochte, well, there's one problem: Lochte has yet to beat him in a 400 individual medley final. Lochte came a lot closer at the Olympic trials in Omaha, matching Phelps stroke-for-stroke in a classic duel.

This one was over after Lochte extended himself in the backstroke. "I went out too fast. I knew I had to go out fast in order to be in the race," Lochte said. "If I had gone a couple of tenths slower on the backstroke, I would have had a better shot. I did my best, I can't ask for anything else."

Lochte had been slowed by a stomach illness, according to his father, Steve, who told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that his son had been not feeling well the last couple of days.

Oddly enough, Phelps said he didn't feel that great before the race. "I wanted to go 4:03. I didn't know if I would. . . . Going into the ready room, I started getting these chills up my body," he said. "Right then and there, I was starting to get more and more excited."

Then there was the give-and-take between Phelps and Bowman. This, reportedly, was Phelps' final 400 IM.

"We had a deal," Phelps said. "[Bowman] said, 'Well, it has to end on a record.' "

Bowman put the event, and Phelps' dominance of it, in proper perspective.

"He never tries to a quantum leap, it's always just one more step," Bowman said. "When you're at the top of the mountain, the steps are pretty high. Even one more step takes you pretty far away from everyone else."

There were three other U.S. medals. Katie Hoff took bronze in the 400 individual medley in 4:31.71, behind Stephanie Rice of Australia (4:29.45) and Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe (4:29.89)

Larsen Jensen of USC's Trojan Swim Club was third in the 400 freestyle, in 3:42.78. In the final event of the morning program, the American women placed second in the 400 freestyle relay, in 3:34.33, behind the gold medalists, the Netherlands.

Anchoring the U.S. relay was 41-year-old Dara Torres, who, incredibly, won her 10th Olympic medal.

"I know the water doesn't know what age you are," Torres said.

Jensen caught a glimpse of Bush, at the pool, on TV when he was getting ready. Winning the 400 freestyle was Park Tae-hwan of South Korea (3:41.86).

"I said, 'The president is watching, it's time to step it up,' " Jensen said.

Christine Magnuson of Tinley Park, Ill., qualified for the final in the 100-meter butterfly with the second-fastest time in the semifinals, a personal-best 57.08 seconds. The No. 1 time belonged to the reigning world champion, Libby Trickett of Australia, in 57.05.

Magnuson had a good line about swimming in Lane 4, where Phelps was when he lowered his own world record in the 400 IM.

"Clearly, he warmed it up for me," she said. "That's all I can say."

--

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

--

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

MICHAEL PHELPS: THE RACE FOR EIGHT

At Athens in 2004, Phelps won six gold medals. In Beijing, he hopes to eclipse Mark Spitz's record of seven. His eight events:

[ 1 ]

GOLD

400 individual medley

In 2004: Gold

--

[ 2 ]

TODAY

4X100 freestyle relay

In 2004: Bronze

--

[ 3 ]

MONDAY

200 freestyle

In 2004: Bronze

--

[ 4 ]

TUESDAY

200 butterfly

In 2004: Gold

--

[ 5 ]

TUESDAY

4X200 freestyle relay

In 2004: Gold

--

[ 6 ]

THURSDAY

200 individual medley

In 2004: Gold

--

[ 7 ]

FRIDAY

100 butterfly

In 2004: Gold

--

[ 8 ]

SATURDAY

4x100 medley relay

In 2004: Gold

--

SWIMMING

Men's

400

IM

*--* Medal winners G: Michael Phelps (United States) Time: 4:03.84 S: Laszlo Cseh (Hungary) Time: 4:06.16 B: Ryan Lochte (United States) Time: 4:08.09 *--*

--

SWIMMING

Men's

400

Freestyle

*--* Medal winners G: Park Tae-hwan (South Korea) Time: 3:41.86 S: Zhang Lin (China) Time: 3:42.44 B: Larsen Jensen (United States) Time: 3:42.78 *--*

--

SWIMMING

Women's

4x100

Free Relay

*--* Medal winners G: Netherlands Time: 3:33.76 S: United States Time: 3:34.33 B: Australia Time: 3:35.05 *--*

--

SWIMMING

Women's

400

IM

*--* Medal winners G: Stephanie Rice (Australia) Time: 4:29.45 S: Kirsty Coventry (Zimbabwe) Time: 4:29.89 B: Katie Hoff (United States) Time: 4:31.71 *--*

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