When Michael Phelps Stood Atop the World in the 100 Freestyle

Michael Phelps

Where did Michael Phelps deliver his greatest performance? The immediate answer – at least for most – is Beijing, site of the 2008 Olympic Games. It’s where Phelps won eight gold medals to produce the finest Olympic showing in history. And given the prestige of Olympic competition, the argument for Beijing is sound.

Yet, a little more than a year earlier, Phelps was nothing short of spectacular at the 2007 edition of the World Championships. Racing at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Phelps collected seven titles and set a quartet of individual world records – 200 freestyle, 200 butterfly, 200 individual medley and 400 medley. There was also a solo crown in the 100 butterfly and golds in the 400 freestyle relay and 800 freestyle relay.

The only thing preventing Phelps from capturing eight titles in Melbourne was a United States disqualification in the preliminaries of the 400 medley relay. In a way, though, that DQ enabled Phelps to win eight golds for the first time on the biggest of stages, adding a bit of cachet to his week inside the Water Cube.

As great as Phelps was throughout his career, one moment that has gone largely overlooked is what the American star managed in the 100 freestyle in Melbourne. At least for that week Down Under, Phelps stood atop the world in what is frequently known as the sport’s Blue Ribbon event. Although he didn’t capture a title in the discipline, he was the fastest man of the World Championships.

Leading off the United States’ 400 freestyle relay on March 25, Phelps popped a 48.42 clocking for the 100 freestyle. Out in 23.46, the face of the sport came home in 24.96 to put the American squad in command, ahead of Canada (Brent Hayden – 48.55) and Brazil (Cesar Cielo – 48.63). Ultimately, Team USA won the event in 3:12.72, with Italy (3:14.04) and France (3:14.68) claiming silver and bronze, respectively.

Through his relay-opening split, Phelps didn’t just put the United States in position to prevail, he provided evidence that a huge week was ahead. Indeed, that scenario unfolded, with Phelps going 1:43.86 to break Ian Thorpe’s iconic world record in the 200 freestyle, along with a 1:52.09 mark in the 200 butterfly that supplied a three-second triumph. Behind a 1:54.98 outing in the 200 IM, Phelps became the first man to crack 1:55 in the event, and his 4:06.22 world record in the 400 medley was made even more impressive by the fact that the race was contested at the end of the program. For good measure, he delivered a come-from-behind victory over Ian Crocker in the 100 butterfly.

But what about that 100 freestyle?

When Phelps unleashed his 48.42 leadoff in relay duty, the performance was celebrated as a stellar effort. However, it eventually was lost amid the excellence of his other performances, and not much was made about whether it would emerge as a faster time than what would be required to win the 100 freestyle later in the week. Well, it turned out it was.

In the final of the 100 freestyle, Hayden and Italian Filippo Magnini shared the gold medal with matching swims of 48.43, .01 slower than what Phelps managed in relay duty. The bronze medal went to Aussie Eamon Sullivan, on the strength of his 48.47 clocking. So, as Phelps left the World Champs and started on the road toward Beijing, he temporarily ranked No. 1 in the world in the 100 freestyle.

By the end of the year, due to superb summer performances, Sweden’s Stefan Nystrand (47.91) and France’s Alain Bernard (48.12) sat first and second in the world rankings, followed by Phelps in the No. 3 position. It was quite the achievement, considering the 100 freestyle ranked somewhere between sixth and eighth on Phelps’ list of top events.

Basically, it was Michael Phelps being Michael Phelps – a standalone star.

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Squiggy Wigginz
1 year ago

Very cool. I cannot imagine the effort it took to find all that out. Bravo. Makes this 52 year old want to go swim a mile this morning and get his butt back in shape.

James Nickoloff
1 year ago

What Phelps was able to accomplish over so many years continues to amaze. As a former competitor myself, I know what kind of work–physical and mental–it takes. Bravo, Michael, and thanks to John Lohn.

8 months ago

Interestingly enough, Phelps’ time of 48.42 is also precisely the time that Matt Biondi swam to establish a world record at the 1988 Olympic Trials, which stood for nearly six years. It’s impressive to know that this time was still a World Championship winning time almost 19 years later.

Christine g Rodgers
8 months ago

Totally agree.Standalone star always !,Christine