By Phillip Whitten
Photos by Peter Bick
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, April 4. COMING into tonight’s competition, Michael Phelps was three-for-three: three events, three gold medals. And that, even though he passed on two events in which he is the world record-holder and was almost a cinch to win here: the 200 fly and the 400 IM.
Tonight, Michael was entered in two more events – the 100 free and 200 IM – where he was to face formidable challenges: Jason Lezak, American record holder in the 100 free; and Ryan Lochte, American record-holder for 200 yards, in the medley.
Men’s 100 meter freestyle
Jason Lezak, who set the American record of 48.17 at last year’s Olympic Trials qualified first, with Phelps right behind him. The rest of the top-notch field consisted of veterans Neil Walker and Nate Dusing sprinkled in with up-and-comers Ben wildman tobriner, Garrett Weber-Gale, Ryan Lochte and Nick Brunelli.
Lezak took the race out hard, turning at the 50 in 23.18 seconds, .02 off world record pace. Stanford’s Wildman-Tobriner turned second (23.41) followed by Walker (23.50), who worked his way back into the race after being left on the blocks by the rest of the field. Phelps was seventh in 23.98, eight-tenths of a second off the pace and seemingly hopelessly out of it.
But don’t ever count Michael Phelps out of a race. Ever!
Heading for home, swimming’s golden boy kept moving up on the rest of the field, picking off one competitor after another. But ahead of him was Neil Walker. At 75 meters, Walker had caught Lezak, while Phelps was right behind at his shoulder. At 80 meters, Walker had the lead, but there was nothing left in reserve and he began to fade. Quickly.
Lezak seized the chance, regaining the lead and had the race in hand as he passed under the flags. Then Michael just shifted into overdrive and seemingly doubled his tempo. Lezak still had the lead as the two rivals lunged for the wall. But, just as he did in the 100 fly in Athens and again, in the 100 fly here earlier in the Trials, Michael somehow managed to get his hand on the wall first.
The clock told the story: Phelps first in 49.00, a PR; Lezak second in 49.09.
Wildman-Tobriner followed with 49.35 with Webber-Gale fourth in 49.40, both men making the USA 4x100m free relay. Walker (49.42) and Dusing (49.83) will complete the US relay squad as alternates.