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Phelps improves his American record in 200 free

COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK - That's three American titles for Michael Phelps at the Summer Nationals, and nearly five for his household.

The best swimmer in the world resides in a townhouse in Rodgers Forge. Some of the nation's top men have found their way there, sampling his hospitality as much as his magic touch.

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Continuing to make the spectacular look routine, Phelps bettered his American record in the 200-meter freestyle last night at the University of Maryland Natatorium. It was the 13th national title for the 18-year-old, and 40 minutes later his newest teammate on the North Baltimore Aquatic Club almost got his first.

Kevin Clements, a former Auburn star who moved into the spare bedroom in the Phelps' household in May, is the No. 2 American in the 200 individual medley. Last night, he was the top American in the 400 IM, but Canadian Brian Johns held off his closing charge to win by .35 of a second.

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The meet opened Tuesday with a commanding win in the 800 freestyle by world runner-up Larsen Jensen, a 17-year-old who is entering his senior year of high school in California. After the worlds in Barcelona, Spain, and a side trip to Athens, Greece, to scout the site of the 2004 Olympic Games, there was no time to return to the West Coast.

Rather than check into a Washington-area hotel, Jensen flopped at Phelps' home, aka the Hopkins Road Boarding House for ridiculously fast swimmers.

"Larsen spent last weekend on the couch in my bedroom," Phelps said. "We had a full house."

Phelps stands atop his sport, so his view remains uncluttered.

Tonight, he can join a select crowd that includes Mark Spitz and Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan himself, with a fourth win here, in the 400 freestyle. No man has won five events at one national meet, and Phelps is entered tomorrow in the 200 IM, one of the four events in which he has set world records.

Last night, he busted loose in the 200 free. Fifteen days after he set the American record with a 1:46.60 leadoff leg on the silver medal team at the worlds, Phelps was first at the 50 wall and never challenged. Only one other American has ever gone under 1:47, and Phelps achieved his goal of being the first under 1:46 with a 1:45.99.

Phelps was nearly three seconds in front of Scott Goldblatt. He became the fourth-fastest ever in an event that is probably his sixth best. Only Australian rival Ian Thorpe's world championship performance has been quicker this year.

"I did what I wanted to do," Phelps said, "but in the last few meters I struggled a bit."

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After twice making history at the worlds in Barcelona, what is Phelps' motivation here?

"I want as many personal bests as possible and as many records as possible," Phelps said. "I want to swim as fast as possible every single race."

Phelps is actually experimenting here, with events and suits. He wore a blue, full-length tank-top Speedo in the 100 free Wednesday and a black model last night.

It was one of the easiest days of competition Phelps has had in the past month. After his final, he took in the 400 IM, where Clements was fastest in the morning preliminaries.

A Californian, Clements completed his eligibility at Auburn, then moved in with Phelps, with the blessing of Tigers coach David Marsh, a friend of Bob Bowman's, Phelps' boss. USA Swimming requires a 120-day waiting period between affiliation changes, and this is Clements' first meet as a member of the NBAC.

He was 2.55 seconds behind Johns at the midway point, came back in the breaststroke and free, only to fall short.

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"I'm satisfied with a personal best, but second isn't what I wanted at the nationals," said Clements, who will train with Phelps in the year ahead, but take an apartment of his own.

He dropped his personal best to 4:17.39 - Phelps' world record is 4:09.09 - and the standard bearer discussed Clements' performance.

Phelps: "Where was the race decided?"

Bowman: "At the free [final] turn. He did a Michael."

Phelps' 6-foot-4 physique has made it difficult for him to perfect his turns. If he had, there would be nothing left to critique.

At a glance

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What: U.S. Summer Nationals

Site:College Park

Dates:Through tomorrow

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

Tickets:Available at the door 90 minutes before each session

Parking:$5


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