ORLANDO, Fla. - Some 70 miles from the real thing in Daytona, Michael Phelps had his motor running during his own Speed Week.
Phelps completed another overwhelming show at USA Swimming's Spring Nationals last night, where he rolled to a win in the 200-meter individual medley. He was timed in 1 minute, 56.80 seconds - less than a second off his world record and more than five in front of the runner-up, North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammate Kevin Clements.
The most versatile swimmer ever, Phelps now owns history's five fastest times in the 200 IM. The presumptive star of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, Phelps claimed five individual titles here, something that had never been done before he pushed the envelope at the Summer Nationals last August.
Four months before he turns 19, Phelps has accumulated 20 national titles, more than any other man in the past 28 years. That count will be frozen for a while, since Olympians will pass on the 2004 Summer Nationals and the Spring Nationals are being discontinued.
With collegians focused on their NCAA schedules, the Spring Nationals were watered down, prompting USA Swimming to decide to remove the championship tag from the meet after this year. That decision seemed sound last night, as Phelps got little lift from a lackluster crowd at the YMCA Aquatic Center.
"At Michael's level, all of the ingredients that go into swimming fast are not always present," said the NBAC's Bob Bowman, who was named Coach of the Meet. "There's emotion involved. I don't care what the announcer said during the 200 IM, there was nothing [from the crowd]. I'm not blaming the people. We're all guilty. I could have been more excited on the deck."
Phelps was tight-lipped after the 200 IM, although it's hard to post personal bests in February when you already hold the world record.
"As much as you want to, you can't set a world record every race," said Phelps, who posted eight of them in 2003. "I'm going home, and getting down and dirty [in practice]. What I had last summer was a lot of endurance. It won't take long to get that back before the trials. Hopefully, that will lead to bigger things."
Bowman gave Phelps a grade of A-minus for the week. Both noticed a flaw in the swimmer's freestyle technique, as his left side dipped too low when he breathed.
Both also were intrigued by Wednesday's close call with the world record in the 200 backstroke, although the addition of that event to his Olympic program would make for a daunting Aug. 19 in Athens, when the 200 backstroke final, 200 IM final and 100 butterfly semifinal are stacked together with little rest.
Team Phelps ponders those possibilities, because he aims to match or surpass the seven gold medals Mark Spitz won at the 1972 Olympics.
Phelps was part of a smaller first here, but one that had the NBAC coaching staff pounding its collective chest. With Phelps' five victories worth 20 points each, the NBAC won the 18-and-under combined team award for the first time, with 343 points.
Abingdon's Katie Hoff, 14, finished third in the women's 200 IM, in 2:15.26. That lowered her national 13-14 age group record, pushing the NBAC's record total to 170.
Phelps will train right through his next meet, the state short-course championships in Annapolis on March 20-21. He'll be in New York on March 9, unveiling his signature line for Speedo, which will pay him a $1 million bonus if he can match Spitz's seven golds.
He'll remain here through Wednesday. There's an American relay camp to attend today and another photo shoot for a national magazine. Phelps may also attempt to squeeze in his first visit to a local amusement park.
Most athletes go to Disney World after they've won an ultimate sporting prize, but Phelps has always made his own timetable.
Phelps at 20
Michael Phelps won his 20th national championship last night, the most by an American male since 1976. The leaders:
Name No. Years
Johnny Weissmuller 38 1922-28
Charlie Daniels 37 1904-11
Adolph Keifer 28 1935-45
Mark Spitz 24 1966-72
Buster Crabbe 22 1928-32
Gary Hall Sr. 21 1968-76
Ralph Flanagan 20 1933-39
Phelps 20 2001-
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