By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 27. MAYBE retirement was a good thing for Ian Thorpe, because the record that was deemed untouchable was knocked into history by America's Superman. Under world-record pace from the start, Michael Phelps posted the almost unbelievable time of 1:43.86 in the 200 freestyle Tuesday night at Rod Laver Arena. That swim dipped under Thorpe's 2001 record of 1:44.06, set at the 2001 World Champs in Fukuoka, Japan.
Typically, Phelps finds a groove during the early portion of his races, before turning on the burners down the stretch. This time around, Phelps went out hard and blew away the field. After splitting 24.47 at the 50-meter mark, Phelps hit the 100 in 51.00, with the Netherlands' Pieter van den Hoogenband right behind in 51.17. Phelps then hit the 150 in 1:17.73 and cranked it home, leaving the Dutchman and Thorpe's record in his wake.
Phelps has now set world records in five different individual events during his career – the 200 freestyle, both butterfly events and both medley disciplines. The prospect of winning eight gold medals here is now a distinct possibility. The 200 free victory was his second, complementing his gold medal as part of the American 400 freestyle relay.
"I just wanted to take it out," Phelps said. "I had to get out after the first 100, take a step in the third 50 and let the adrenaline go. I'm pretty happy with that. It hurt, but I'm really excited. I did want to race (Thorpe) and I'm a little disappointed I didn't get that chance, but I got to race against one of the best in Pieter."
Van den Hoogenband, known for his early speed, claimed the silver medal in a time of 1:46.28 and was followed in the bronze-medal position by Korean teenager Tae Hwan Park (1:46.73). Prior to Phelps and his sub-1:44, van den Hoogenband and Thorpe had been the only men in history to dip under the 1:45 barrier. Hoogie was the 2000 Olympic champ.