World Record Throwback: Michael Phelps, Erik Vendt’s Epic Duel in the 400 IM at 2002 US Nationals

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Michael Phelps broke his first world record in the 400 IM 17 years ago today. Photo Courtesy: George Olsen / Swimming World Archive

Michael Phelps and Erik Vendt had one of the all-time great races in swimming with both guys getting under Tom Dolan’s WR in the 400 IM at the 2002 US Nationals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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Michael Phelps celebrates. Photo Courtesy: George Olsen / Swimming World Archive

This was Phelps’ first time breaking the WR in the 400 IM and the second WR of his career. He was 17.

He swam a 4:11.09 to get under Dolan’s 4:11.76 from the 2000 Olympic Games. Vendt was second, also getting under the WR with a 4:11.27.

Phelps would go on to break the 400 IM WR seven more times in his career. To this day, he has held on to the WR in that event since initially breaking it here in 2002. It now stands at a 4:03.84 set at the 2008 Olympic Games.

“I knew it would come down to the last stroke,” Phelps told Swimming World at the time, “that whoever got his hand on the wall first would have the world record. And I hate to lose. I just hate to lose.”

Vendt’s comments were similar. “I knew whoever won the race would get the world record,” Vendt said at the time. “This was the best race ever, and I’m happy to have done my best time by over two seconds.”

“We bring out the best in each other,” Phelps said.

Phelps and Vendt went on to go 1-2 at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens two years later.

Race Results

  1. Michael Phelps, 4:11.09
  2. Erik Vendt, 4:11.27
  3. Tom Wilkens, 4:17.05
  4. Kevin Clements, 4:18.59
  5. Robert Margalis, 4:20.62
  6. Brendan Neligan, 4:22.85
  7. Eric Shanteau, 4:24.23
  8. Eric Donnelly, 4:24.28

Swimming World’s Phillip Whitten wrote at the time:

This was the one everyone was waiting for. This was the race about which Michael Phelps said yesterday, “Erik and I have something special for you tomorrow.” And as they left the Ready Room, the two good friends and fierce rivals turned to each other and said; “Let’s give them something to cheer about.”

They did. In spades. But strangely, the hush of anticipation extended through the first 100 meters, the crowd seemingly holding its collective breath. When Phelps hit the wall at 55.97, the crowd erupted, and the cheering just grew louder.

Vendt finished his fly leg in 58.57 – right where he wanted to be.

As expected, Phelps extended his lead by almost a second in the backstroke, turning in a mind-boggling 1:59.38. In 1964, Don Schollander became the first man to break two minutes for 200 meters freestyle, going on to win four gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics and becoming the most popular athlete of the ’64 Games. And here was Phelps, swimming 1:59 for 100 meters of fly and backstroke…on his way to a 400 IM.

But Vendt is nothing if not one of the toughest competitors on the planet. And he came storming back, splitting an incredible 1:10.87 and picking up three seconds on Phelps as the capacity crowd was on its feet, screaming.

And Vendt wasn’t done. On the first 50 meters of the freestyle leg, Erik actually took the lead from Michael, turning at 350 meters with a lead of 14-hundredths of a second.

But Michael was far from through. He pushed off the wall, doing six quick underwater dolphin kicks, and was back in front. With 25 meters to go, Erik had hauled his rival in, once again, and retaken a tiny lead. “I though I had it then,” Vendt said later. So did much of the crowd.

That’s when Michael dug deeper and inched ahead. The two men surged for the wall, and it was the 17 year-old phenom who hit the pads first.

The crowd erupted…and the cheering went on and on.

World Record Progression (last 15 records)

  • 4:17.41, Alex Baumann, CAN (1984)
  • 4:16.12, David Wharton, USA (1987)
  • 4:15.42, Tamas Darnyi, HUN (1987)
  • 4:14.75, Tamas Darnyi, HUN (1988)
  • 4:12.36, Tamas Darnyi, HUN (1991)
  • 4:12.30, Tom Dolan, USA (1994)
  • 4:11.76, Tom Dolan, USA (2000)
  • 4:11.09, Michael Phelps, USA (2002)
  • 4:10.73, Michael Phelps, USA (2003)
  • 4:09.09, Michael Phelps, USA (2003)
  • 4:08.41, Michael Phelps, USA (2004)
  • 4:08.26, Michael Phelps, USA (2004)
  • 4:06.22, Michael Phelps, USA (2007)
  • 4:05.25, Michael Phelps, USA (2008)
  • 4:03.84, Michael Phelps, USA (2008)

History of the Hall of Fame Aquatic Center in Fort Lauderdale

In 1926, one of the worst hurricanes on record sucker-punched Broward County, killing an estimated 325 people and prompting Fort Lauderdale’s mayor to declare martial law. It also paved the way for the city to embrace the idea of Commodore Auylen Harcourt Brook, who believed promoting swimming and the building of a “concrete pond” would fuel the ailing local economy and help revitalize the area.

The Fort Lauderdale Sentinel supported the idea of a bond issue, and on June 28, 1927, proclaimed: “With such a bath house, our excellent beach, now notably popular, will become far more popular and a genuine attraction in drawing visitors to the city, both summer and winter.”

Estimated to cost $90,000 and criticized for costing $130,000, the Las Olas Casino came to be considered one of the city’s best ever investments.

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Fort Lauderdale Casino Pool; Photo Courtesy: Calis Publishing Company

In November 1961, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) of the United States issued a request for proposals from cities interested in hosting a National Swimming Hall of Fame. Fort Lauderdale saw this as an opportunity to replace the aging Casino Pool and to create “the cultural asset of a museum that marks one of the greatest traditions of our city.”

In early 1962, Mayor Burry, after consulting with Florida’s Governor, Farris Bryant, created the “Mayor’s Swimmers’ Hall of Fame Citizens Committee” which included the entire City Commission and 30 civic leaders. On November 9, 1962, the City Commission unanimously approved”

“A resolution indicating that the City of Fort Lauderdale is interested in establishing the facility known as “The Swimming Hall of Fame” in the City of Fort Lauderdale and is in a position to present its plans therefore.”

On November 27, 1962, the AAU unanimously selected Fort Lauderdale’s bid over the bids of Houston and Louisville.

The success of the International Swimming Hall of Fame as a driver of economic development did not go unnoticed by other cities. By the mid-1980’s, as other cities emulated our example and as new standards were developed, the city realized it was time to upgrade and renovate the entire complex.

After two years of construction, the newly renovated facility opened in August 1991, to host the USA Swimming National Championships with two new world records set.

Over the years, the International Swimming Hall of Fame Aquatic Complex has been one of the city’s primary attractions by drawing national and international media attention through its competitions, exhibitions, conferences and the unique one-of-a-kind museum that has brought Presidents, Senators, Princes and celebrities to this city for almost 50 years.

On July 10, 2018 the Fort Lauderdale City Commission authorized staff to negotiate a design-build contract for the renovation of the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center with Hensel Phelps Construction Company in the not-to-exceed amount of $27,000,000.

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Hall of Fame Aquatic Center renovation update as of August 14, 2019; Photo Courtesy: Andy Ross

Construction company Hensel Phelps was awarded a design-build contract on August 21, 2018 based upon their own diligence and the design criteria package in the City’s Request for Proposals outlining specifications, requirements and 30% schematic designs. At the same City Commission meeting, the Commission authorized a new 30-year lease with the International Swimming Hall of Fame museum.

The new lease agreement and modernizing of the municipal pool facility will restore Fort Lauderdale’s standing in the competitive swimming and diving world by continuing the great tradition of aquatic sports, that will enrich the local community and inspire new generations of swimmers and divers.

New elements of the pool facility design include a new main competition pool (53m X 25m), a new diving pool (25m x 25m) and dive tower with five platform levels and multiple 1m and 3m springboards, a new spa, instructional pool and grandstand building with spectator restrooms, concessions, ticket office, and metal bleachers to accommodate 1,500 spectators. Repairs will be made to the existing training pool (50m x 25y) with new filtration, surfacing and gutters. Additional site improvements will include new surface parking and drainage system, new stadium lighting, landscaping, sidewalks, and a new main entry plaza. The renovation of the men’s and women’s locker rooms will be addressed under a separate task order for design services using a design firm from the City’s continuing services contract.

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Artist’s rendition for the Fort Lauderdale Hall of Fame Aquatic Center renovations; Photo Courtesy: Hensel-Phelps

The City has recently budgeted an additional 2.7 million dollars to include a 27 meter diving high tower which will be the only one in the western hemisphere.

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Proposed 27 meter diving tower; Photo Courtesy: Hensel-Phelps

9 comments

  1. Stephen Paul

    crazy this was the day Phelps first earned the world record which he would lower several times until the Beijing Olympics to a 4:03 where the record sits today. his only remaining world record 😥

  2. Laura Voet

    Faster In Fort Lauderdale! 👏🏻🌤🌴🌊

  3. Patsy Patterson Martin

    The best thing about a race like this , the person that is just there, is pushing you beyond your self. If Micheal didn’t have Erik he wouldn’t have gone so fast. I look for people that help me swim faster. NO KIDS. I just do better when I have someone to swim against.

    • Lix AG

      Gabriela Perezcortes enséñame

  4. Todd Emerson

    I love these memories! Please keep this going 🙏🏼

  5. Tucker Rivera

    Love this love Phelps, and I’m glad he worked on his backstroke turns lol