COLLEGE PARK - Of all his marvelous swims at the world championships last month, the final in the 200-meter individual medley was paramount for Michael Phelps.
That was the swim that allowed him to become the first man to set world records in different events on the same day. His time of 1 minute, 56.04 seconds was graded by FINA, the sport's governing body, as the top performance among thousands in Barcelona, Spain.
It stood as a standard for 15 days.
Capping what may be the greatest non-Olympic campaign by a swimmer, Phelps used all of his adrenaline, 6 feet 4 and 192 pounds to lower his world record to 1:55.94 last night at the Summer Nationals.
Only one other man has gone under 1:59 in the sport's supreme test of all-around ability, and that was in 1994. Finland's Jani Sievinen held the record at 1:58.16 for nine years until a kid from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club came along.
Phelps battered the mark four times in 42 days. Spurred on by the skepticism of a Finnish journalist, he started the assault a day before his 18th birthday on the West Coast (Santa Clara), moved on to the Mediterranean and finished at the University of Maryland Natatorium.
That's seven world records for Phelps this summer, eight this year and 11 in what is unfolding as a very grand career. In the process, he became the first man to win five individual titles at a U.S. national championship meet.
"Wow," Phelps said. "That's all I can say. I shocked myself. When I talked to Bob [Bowman, his coach] this morning, I said I just wanted to do faster than I did in Santa Clara."
That June 29 mark was 1:57.94. After the butterfly and backstroke portions of the medley last night, Phelps was three-tenths faster than the pace of his Barcelona best. With a sellout crowd of 1,100 screaming, "Go!" in unison on every stroke, Phelps didn't back off on the breaststroke and freestyle.
He pulled NBAC teammate Kevin Clements to a second-place time of 1:59.56, the second fastest ever by an American, faster even than Australian Ian Thorpe went behind Phelps at the worlds. Seventh in Barcelona, Clements came here with a personal best of 2:01.04, and the trimming had only begun.
Bowman joined the celebration on the starting blocks, and rued a bet he made in Barcelona.
"I told Michael that if he went under 1:56, I would shave my head," Bowman said. "I was screaming, '56.01!' I told him today was the last chance to win the bet. My hair's not that long. I might look better."
In the NBAC corner of the practice pool, Alex Holdridge pulled out the disposable razor that all swimmers pack in their gear bag and wagged it at Bowman. Voted Coach of the Meet by his peers, he could have a clean pate as early as today.
Two hours later, Clements, Jamie Barone and Phelps gave Holdridge nearly a two-second lead heading into the anchor of the 400 medley relay, but he couldn't hold on. Lost in the din was a 51.23 split in the fly for Phelps, two-tenths of a second off the leg he had last year, when he helped the Americans set a world record.
The last event of the Summer Nationals was Phelps' 24th race in 19 days, and it closed a life-altering four months.
At the Spring Nationals in April, Phelps became the first man to win events in three of the four strokes. Besides his two world records in one day in Barcelona, he also became the first swimmer to set five world records in one meet.
His five titles here bettered the four won at a national meet by Johnny Weissmuller, Mark Spitz and Tom Dolan, who last did it in 1998.
To think Bowman would have pulled the plug on Phelps' season after Barcelona if the national championships hadn't been making their debut in Phelps' home state.
Phelps will next compete in November, at some World Cup meets in Australia. His tentative plans to take a course or two at Loyola College this fall will likely be delayed because he is very much in demand. He'll be in New York tomorrow, discussing business with his agent and meeting potential sponsors.
For the first time in two years, Phelps will take several days off from swimming, but he'll probably be back practicing by week's end. He'll be spurred on by a season - and one last swim - to remember.
"Having that as my last individual swim [of the season]," Phelps said of his 200 IM, "is going to make me even more focused when I get back to training."
Michael Phelps has set 11 individual world records during his career, including seven since June 29. His recent run:
Date Event Time
June 29 200 ind. medley 1:57.94
July 22 200 butterfly 1:53.93
July 24 200 ind. medley 1:57.52
July 25 100 butterfly 51.47
July 25 200 ind. medley 1:56.04
July 27 400 ind. medley 4:09.09
Aug. 9 200 ind. medley 1:55.94
Last night, Michael Phelps became the first man to win five individual events at a U.S. national championship meet.
The titles (*-American record; **-world record):
100 freestyle 49.19
200 backstroke 1:56.10
200 freestyle *1:45.99
400 freestyle *3:46.73 200
ind. medley **1:55.94