By Phillip Whitten
COLLEGE PARK, Maryland, August 9. FOR three solid weeks he was a tornado, a whirling dervish, spinning through the competition, wreaking havoc and leaving naught but destruction in his wake. Seeming more a force of nature than a mere mortal, 18 year-old Michael Phelps had set five world records and eight American records in that time, winning three gold and two silver medals at the World Chazmpionships in Barcelona, then another four gold at the US National Championships in College Park, Maryland.
Last night, after taking that fourth national title and setting his second American record in the meet, Phelps acknowledged that he had run out of gas. "I'm running on empty," he declared.
So when he stepped up to the starting block this evening, there was no expectation that there would be any more records. The event was his final one of the meet — the 200 meter individual medley, in which he'd set an other-worldly global mark of 1:56.04 just 15 days ago. A time that was more than two seconds faster than any other human being had ever swum the event.
But Phelps was swimming on more than fumes this evening. That waS super high-octane fuel that powered the 18 year-old phenom to his sixth world record in three weeks. To the astonishment of everyone here, including his coach, Bob Bowman, and even himself, Phelps lowered his 200 IM mark yet again – to 1:55.94.
To put this in perspective, consider: No one else in the world has swum under 1:59 in the last three years. No one else has ever swum in the 1:56s or even 1:57s. Phelps has gone 1:55.94.
Almost coincidentally, Phelps also became the first man ever to win five individual events at a U.S. National Championhip.
“I'm shocked,” Phelps said. “I wanted to go faster than I did at Santa Clara, and I did. I told Bob (Bowman) I wanted to go after it tonight. I wanted to go out in 54 and then try to hang on.
He did exactly that.
“Bob said before that if I broke 1:56, he'd shave his head. I just missed it at Worlds. He told me and Kevin (Clements) that tonight was the last night for the bet. It's gone.”
Phelps was on record pace right from the start, bring the sellout crowd to its feet, as it cheered him on. He stayed right on pace the entire way, then powered home to shave one-tenth of a second off this old, still dripping-wet mark from Barcelona.
His Splits: 25.15 – 54.03 – 1:28.36 – 1:55.94
25 15 (fly) – 28.88 back) – 34.33 (breast) – 27.58 (free)
Lost in the excitement over Phelps' latest record was teammate Kevin Clements' second-place performance. Clements clocked a brilliant 1:59.56 – a time that would have earned him silver at the World Championships.
"It feels good to finally have a break-through swim like that," Clements said. "It’s been sitting there, waiting for me to get to that moment, and I finally did. It feels really good."
Trojan Swim Club's Kaitlin Sandeno stroked to her third gold of the meet with a PR 2:12.97 in the 200 IM, breaking the meet mark of 2:13.10 set by Summer Sanders in 1992. Gabrielle Rose was second in 2:15.66.
Rose held a small lead over sandeno after the fly, but the Trojan junior's 33.03 backstroke split broke the race wide open, giving her a two-second lead that she maintained in the breaststroke leg then lengthened in the final 50 meter leg.
"This is the most wins I’ve ever gotten at Nationals, so overall, things are right where I want them to be. I’m happy. Being a year out (from Olympic Trials), it’s really encouraging. I’m really excited."
Also having a breakthrough meet and earning her third gold medal here was 18 year-old Kalyn Keller, whose 16:08.64 for the 1500 meters was the second-fastest time in the world this year.
It was a very fast race with Adrienne Binder finishing second in 16:16.31 and Brooke Bennett third in 16:19.77.
Keller has been making finals at Nationals since she was 12 and she had previously won a national title – in the 800 free in 2001. But this week she swam to personal bests in all her freestyle events – 200, 400, 800 and 1500 — announcing to all that she has arrived at last on the world stage.
"I know that I’ve been training really hard, and I think it’s about time my training matched up with what I did at a meet," Keller said. "It’s good timing for next year. I’m ready to go into my training now with a lot of confidence."
Mission Viejo's Larsen Jensen won the men's 1500 in a solid 15:11.81, leading all the way and swimming an evenly-split race. Teammate Justin Mortimer, second in both the 400 and 800, wsas second again tonight in 15:25.53, while 16 year-old Michael Klueh finished third in 15:26.61.
Neil Walker, Circle C, who qualified in a tie for sixth, took the men's 50 meter sprint in 22.59. Bobby Zaabadick was second in 22.81, one-hundredth ahead of France's Alain Bernard.
Seventeen year-old Malia Metella won France's only gold medal of the five day meet with a speedy 25.18 in the 50 free. Sarah Wanezek, who won the 100, was a distant second in 25.65.