Kicking into another gear, exhausted Phelps wins twice


SANTA CLARA, Calif. - How busy was Michael Phelps' day?

The unique swimmer made a decathlete look lazy, gave enough blood to please the American Red Cross and had more wardrobe changes than Britney Spears.

Phelps finished an eventful Santa Clara International Invitational last night exhausted, but satisfied. He easily passed a key stress test with his third and fourth victories of the weekend, which would have been unbeaten if not for Aaron Peirsol, the best backstroker in the world.

"Michael had a perfect weekend as it was," Peirsol said, "it's just that someone got in the way."

The 18-year-old Rodgers Forge resident, less than a year out of Towson High and presumably headed to big things at the 2004 Olympics, entered six events over three days here, three yesterday, when his finals came in a whirlwind span of 66 minutes.

Phelps won the 100-meter freestyle and the 200 individual medley, before Peirsol beat him in the 100 backstroke. Phelps probably isn't considering that last race for his much-speculated-on Olympic program, which could include an unheard of five individual events.

The day's ordeal was a dry run for July 12, when Phelps could be in the finals of the 200 backstroke and 200 IM, and the semifinals of the 100 butterfly at the U.S. Olympic trials, down the Pacific coast in Long Beach.

"Going out for the [100] backstroke, I was shaking," said Phelps, who headed this morning to two weeks of altitude training in Colorado Springs. "I'm not sure if that's because I was cold or tired. That was definitely more tiring than Indianapolis, when I had three races in 37 minutes."

That lower-key Grand Prix meet came last month. Then and last night, USA Swimming physiologists monitored his lactate readings, 14 ear pricks worth here at the George F. Haines International Swim Center.

Coach Bob Bowman designs days like yesterday's, hoping that they don't go smoothly. Unaware that the original preliminary schedule had been revised, Phelps missed his heat of the 100 backstroke and had to ask nicely to occupy an open lane in the last section. The sleeveless bodysuit he wore in the 100 free prelims turned up missing in the evening.

"We accomplished everything we wanted to do here," Bowman said. "He dealt with stress, the best Americans in every event, and he nearly won them all."

The 100 freestyle was Phelps' most significant performance here. He is not going to swim that event at the Olympic trials, so he needs to make an impression to be included on the 400 freestyle relay in Athens, Greece. Wearing a prototype Speedo cap that's harder than the normal headgear, he finished in 49.26, handling a field that included Jason Lezak, America's best at the 2003 world championships.

Phelps set the first of his four world records in the 200 IM here last year. On 29 minutes' rest, he led the entire way but slowed perceptibly on the closing freestyle leg en route to a four-second win in 2:00.41.

Thirty-three minutes later, Phelps was also the fastest qualifier in the 100 backstroke, which included Peirsol, the world champion; Lenny Krayzelburg, the world-record holder and Olympic champion; and assorted NCAA champions and former American record holders.

"I'll always remember that heat," said Peirsol, 21, who cut short his collegiate career at the University of Texas to sign with Nike last month. "For me, this was the race of the weekend."

Peirsol lowered the meet record to 54.91. Last in a nine-man field at the 50 wall, Phelps caught all but Peirsol and posted his only personal best of the weekend, 55.49.

The North Baltimore Aquatic Club swept the High Point Awards, as Phelps repeated on the men's side and 14-year-old Katie Hoff took the women's honor. Their 400 IMs shared the performance of the meet honor.

Yesterday morning, Hoff made the 200 butterfly the fourth event in which she has qualified for the U.S. trials. In the final, the home-schooled Abingdon resident dropped her personal best to 2:12.11.

Tight schedule

Michael Phelps swam three finals in a little more than an hour last night, the kind of close scheduling that he may face during the Olympics. Here's how it went (local starting times in Santa Clara):

5:40: 100-meter freestyle - Won in 49.26 seconds.

6:10: 200 individual medley - Won in 2:00.41.

6:45: 100 backstroke - Second in 55.49

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