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Phelps' strong suit is winning

He wins three events at Santa Clara, including his first backstroke victory over Peirsol, while rivals test out high-tech swimwear.

May 19, 2008|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The window of high-tech opportunity will close in about two weeks, so Brendan Hansen and Aaron Peirsol opted to wiggle through it and squeeze into the news-making Speedo LZR Racer on Sunday.

It's no small issue.

Not only are they world-record holders, but the two Austin, Texas-based swim stars happen to be high-profile Nike endorsers. Despite this, Nike has given them permission to test other suits in May.

So Hansen gave Speedo a test run in the final of the 200 breaststroke, which he won in 2 minutes 10.62 seconds. Peirsol did his experimenting under quieter circumstances. "I'm not going to lie to you, I did wear something this morning," Peirsol said.

Their experimentation came on the final day of the Santa Clara International Invitational, which featured a handful of standout performances.

Leading the way, naturally, was Michael Phelps, who pulled off a swim hat trick and managed to beat Peirsol for the first time in the backstroke, winning the 100-meter event in 54.03 to Peirsol's 54.36.

Also of note was Cate Campbell's performance in the 50 freestyle. The 15-year-old Australian equaled the third-fastest time in history, 24.13. Mary DeScenza set a meet record in the 200 butterfly (2:07.77) and Erik Vendt had a personal best and meet record in the 1,500 freestyle (14:46.78).

Phelps, whose other two individual wins on the last day came in the 200 individual medley (1:58.13) and 100 freestyle (49.15), said he followed the advice of his coach Bob Bowman in the backstroke.

"Bob said take it out. I saw [Peirsol] out of the corner of my eye," Phelps said. "I just tried to spin my arms as fast as I could and hope I didn't die. I was hurting a little at the end."

The three individual wins Sunday didn't totally cancel out Phelps' disappointment over his 400 individual medley, in which he was unhappy about his backstroke leg.

"I guess the 100 and 200 backs have been pretty good times. It's good to know the backstroke is there," Phelps said.

Said Peirsol: "He finally got me. That was a great triple he did. I know where I'm at right now, certainly I wanted to win. It was a little slower than I wanted to go but it's not a bad time."

For Peirsol, Santa Clara was a chance to get in some good competition, work out kinks and try the Speedo suit. "Mission accomplished," he said.

The testing of the Speedo suit comes against the backdrop of a tumultuous time in the swim world. Last week, TYR Sport filed an antitrust lawsuit in federal court against the parent company of Speedo and also named as defendants USA Swimming, head coach Mark Schubert and Vendt . The suit alleges a conspiracy to choke off competition, detailing supposed efforts to persuade other elite athletes to leave rival manufacturers.

But Peirsol and Hansen don't want to have lingering questions before the U.S. Olympic trials. "The options are open, I guess," Peirsol said. "Philosophically, you don't want a suit to win a race. You don't want to be racing a suit. You want to be racing the guy next to you."

Hansen said Sunday he plans to also test TYR's high-tech offering. Peirsol said he would consider it too.

This comes days after their agent, Evan Morgenstein, called out the Huntington Beach-based company in the media and said his firm would no longer work with TYR but would honor existing contracts -- this after TYR alleged that Vendt had breached his contract by wearing Speedo.

"We want to exhaust every possible option that we have," Hansen said. "If I get on the blocks and if I swim against somebody with a TYR suit, I know I've worn that, and I know what that feels like. I don't want there to be any guesswork at all about what my competitors are wearing.

". . . I'm really pleased with the Nike suit I wore in the 100, so that's up there. . . . That one feels most comfortable. The one I wore tonight worked really good as well. I don't want you to think that my time had anything to do with the suit that I'm wearing."

Hansen wants the suit issue off the table in the next two to three weeks. "I'll have to sit down and write down on a piece of paper which one I like better, which one is more comfortable," he said. "I don't want to be telling you guys 'I don't know what I'm wearing' two days before the trials."

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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