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Phelps makes his relay point with surge to wall in 100 free

COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK - Michael Phelps enjoyed a remarkable splashdown in America last night.

Ten days after he made history at the world swimming championships, Phelps was the main attraction at a more low-key gathering, the U.S. Summer Nationals. Two-thirds of the nation's stars were missing from the University of Maryland Natatorium, but Phelps provided glitz with a pair of wins that doubled as statements.

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The 18-year-old from Rodgers Forge and the North Baltimore Aquatic Club won the 100 freestyle in 49.19 seconds, eight-tenths ahead of the runner-up. The performance was pertinent because it barged Phelps into the American pool of candidates for the 400 freestyle relay at next summer's Olympics.

A factor in six events at the worlds last month in Barcelona, Spain, Phelps needs a seventh in his program if he wants a chance to duplicate the seven gold medals won by Mark Spitz at the 1972 Summer Olympics.

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Of course, he could always stick with two relays and branch out to a fifth individual event. An hour after the 100 free, Phelps was on world-record pace in the 200 backstroke. He came home in 1:56.10, which made him the third-fastest man ever.

Phelps' sound track on his CD player headphones the last three weeks has been one of the last tracks on Eminen Show, and "Til I Collapse" described his state in the final 30 meters of the 200 back. The fatigure was the result not just of that race, but a hard summer grind.

"I've never hurt that bad in a race before," Phelps said.

Earlier, Phelps said, "I don't know how to swim the 200 back," a frightening prospect for the competition. At the Spring Nationals, he beat reigning world champion Aaron Peirsol, but the event is an afterthought in a repertoire that has made Phelps the world or American champion in seven of the 13 individual Olympic events for men.

"If anybody can handle that [five individual events in an international meet], he's the guy," said Randall Bal, his Barcelona roommate who was fourth in the 100 free.

Phelps had two personal bests last night, leading all the way in the 200 back and using his trademark close in the 100 free, where he was seventh at the 50 wall.

In the 100 free, he began the day with a personal record of 51.98. Wearing a full-body Speedo for the first time, he ended it nearly three seconds faster, with a time bettered by only one American this summer. The coach who will oversee the U.S. Olympic men's team - and make decisions about relay lineups in Athens - was sufficiently impressed.

"Very simply, we know he's that fast, and we know he'll be faster next year," said Eddie Reese, the head coach at Texas. "The Olympic schedule is going to be very interesting for Michael and Bob Bowman [his coach]. The goal is to win relays, and we'll take whoever can help us."

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Phelps said, "I want to be on the American team" in the 400 free relay, a "muscle" event that is one of the centerpieces of the Olympic program. Bowman underscored the importance of last night's victory to that goal.

"That was very important," Bowman said, "because Michael's not going to get a lot of opportunities to swim that event. He's definitely going to get faster, on maturity alone."

It was another whirlwind day for Phelps, who will swim the 200 freestyle tonight, the 400 freestyle tomorrow and wrap up the meet Saturday with the 200 IM, one of the events in which he set his unprecedented five world records in Barcelona.

After a side trip to Athens, he returned home a week ago today. He didn't sleep in his first full day back, opting to get the windows tinted on his Cadillac Escalade.

On Sunday, The Today Show taped his morning workout. He then made two stops in Harford County, visiting a Boys and Girls Club and his 84-year-old grandmother, Leoma Davisson.

NOTES: The NBAC's Emily Goetsch, a 17-year-old who swam in the Duel in the Pool last April, was seventh in the 200 butterfly in 2:14.38, five seconds behind Kaitlin Sandeno. ... Kevin Clements, who lives in a spare bedroom in Phelps' home, was fifth in the 200 breaststroke. Loyola College grad Jamie Barone, another member of the NBAC, was 16th in that event.

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At a glance

What: U.S. Summer Nationals

Site: College Park

Dates: Through Saturday

Times: Preliminaries, 9 a.m.; finals, 6 p.m., each day

Tickets: Available at the door 90 minutes before each session

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Parking: $5


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