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SWIMMING

Michael Phelps wins twice, not happily

He's put off by his marks in the 200-meter freestyle and 200 butterfly at the U.S. nationals. Aaron Peirsol regains a record.

July 09, 2009|Kevin Van Valkenburg

INDIANAPOLIS — When you think about it, Michael Phelps isn't just the greatest swimmer in the world because he's incredibly fast. It's also because, no matter what's going on in his life, no matter what transition he's undertaking or controversy he's facing, he's never slow.

There are times when he's faster than others, certainly. But one part of his athletic genius that is so easy to overlook is his consistency. He's occasionally amazing, often good and never awful. Mentally, he might be furious or frustrated about something, but he's always been able to put it aside long enough that it doesn't matter. And that sort of sums up his performance Wednesday night at the U.S. nationals.

Phelps won the 200-meter freestyle with a swim that was solid but unspectacular, by his standards, touching the wall in 1 minute 44.23 seconds. When he finished, he glared at the scoreboard, unsure of what to make of his race, which, by the way, happened to be the fastest time in the world this year.

An hour later, he won the 200-meter butterfly in 1:52.76, also the fastest time in the world this year. But before he climbed out of the pool, he shook his head in minor frustration, and was clearly angry as he entered the warmup pool. Never mind that he's done almost no training for the 200 butterfly this year.

"I'm not happy unless I'm swimming my best times," Phelps said. "This is the first time I've been shaved and tapered where I didn't hit my best times, and that's not something I'm used to."

Clearly, though, Phelps also wasn't happy about something else. But he wasn't willing to say what it was.

"There are some things that I'm fired up about that I'm keeping inside," Phelps said. "I'm not going to talk about those things because I'm just going to use them as motivation."

Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, said he was pleased with both races and suspected that Phelps would be too when he looked at them with a bit of perspective. He's really only been back in the water for five months.

"He's just getting back into racing and realizing there are some things he can control and things he can't," Bowman said. "We can only do as well as we can do with the training we put in. If you had asked me a while ago if he'd go 1:52 and 1:44, I'd have been surprised. So I'm very pleased. I think he's ahead of where we initially thought he might be."

Meanwhile, Aaron Peirsol, the 25-year-old from Irvine, became the first man to break the 52-second barrier in the 100-meter backstroke, reclaiming the world record he lost recently.

Peirsol turned in a time of 51.94 seconds. Aschwin Wildeboer of Spain had held the record for just under two weeks.

"He'll get his chance again in a couple of weeks," Peirsol said.

"Any time you break one of those barriers, it feels cool. . . . That was just a great swim. A lot of times you look back and feel like you could have done something differently, even with a good time, but that was just a great swim. It feels good to know what I'm capable of."

The U.S. nationals experience has been nothing short of magical for 15-year-old Elizabeth Pelton from Baltimore.

After grabbing a spot on the national team in the 200-meter individual medley Tuesday, Pelton followed it up Wednesday night by making the team again in the 100-meter backstroke, finishing second to Haley MacGregory.

Pelton said that she had a hard time falling asleep Tuesday knowing she was going to the world championships in Rome later this month, and that excitement hadn't faded when she made the team in a second event.

"It's a little overwhelming," said Pelton, who before this meet set 10 national age-group records. "I kept trying to take my mind off it, and I always found myself just going back to it. Just constantly. Tonight I looked over and I saw my team jumping up and down again and I knew something good had happened."

Olympic silver medalist Katie Hoff is heading in the opposite direction. The 20-year-old Hoff tried to summon every ounce of energy in a last-ditch effort to salvage a disappointing meet, but she still finished eighth in the finals of the 200-meter freestyle, most likely ending her chances of making the world championship team.

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kevin.vanvalkenburg @baltsun.com

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