Phelps breezes to victory in 200 freestyle

If only all problems were so easy to dismiss.

Two hundred meters in a pool and Michael Phelps' freestyle stroke problems vanished in the Orange County night air.

Phelps, of Fells Point, put down the fastest time in the world this year, winning the 200-meter freestyle in 1 minute, 45.61 seconds at the U.S. national championships on Wednesday night.

His longtime rival, Ryan Lochte, was second in 1:45.78, and his former teammate at Club Wolverine, Peter Vanderkaay, took third in 1:46.84.

The win also puts Phelps on the U.S. team for the Pan Pacific championships, which will be held in Irvine later this month, the same venue as the ongoing nationals.

In a later race, Katie Hoff, who was raised in Towson, placed third in the 200freestyle behind Allison Schmitt, who won, and Dana Vollmer. Hoff's time was 1:57.50.

Barely a week ago, Phelps told The Baltimore Sun he was having trouble with his freestyle stroke.

By the time media day rolled around, Phelps and his coach, Bob Bowman, were seeing improvement. But seconds after winning the 200 freestyle, Phelps still was not satisfied.

"Still slower than I want to be," he said in a brief TV interview on the pool deck, and adding that he was doing better mentally than physically.

If he had been critical of his freestyle stroke, Phelps was even tougher on himself after he won the 200 butterfly. His double came in under an hour, and his winning time in the 200 fly was 1:56.00.

"Terrible," he said. "I felt absolutely awful. I'm going to have to be in a lot better shape. Not in my best shape to do those events back to back."

Lochte always pushes Phelps, and Wednesday was no different in their long history, with Phelps getting out fast, and in front.

"It was brutal," Lochte said. "I knew he was going to go out fast. I tried to go out with him."

Former world-record holder Natalie Coughlin won the 100 backstroke in 1:00.21.

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