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In homestretch of NBAC career, Phelps headlines tuneup event

A renamed swim meet will serve as a rite of passage for Michael Phelps.

The Argent Mortgage Long Course Championships opens a four-day run at the Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center tonight. What used to be known as the North Baltimore Aquatic Club Invitational is now supported by one of Phelps' corporate sponsors. The meet has traditionally been on his competitive calendar, but his days with the NBAC are numbered.

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It is Phelps' final tuneup before the U.S. Olympic trials, which will be conducted next month. That meet will determine exactly how busy he will be at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. With Bob Bowman, his coach, taking over the University of Michigan men in the fall, look for Phelps to follow him to Ann Arbor.

Out of respect to the NBAC, Phelps hasn't talked publicly about his post-Athens plans, but it is understood he will switch his allegiance to Club Wolverine, which will also be under the direction of Bowman, then begin his college studies at Michigan sometime in 2005.

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At last year's NBAC meet, Phelps was little known outside the swim world, but he turned the sport on its ear five weeks later at the world championships, leading to speculation he could be the most decorated athlete in Athens.

Phelps holds world records in three events, is No. 2 all-time in two others and owns the American record in two more. He would be a factor in eight of the 13 Olympic events if that schedule weren't crammed into eight days. Phelps has yet to announce his program for the U.S. trials in Long Beach, Calif., July 7 to 14, when he could enter as many as six events.

Coming off a hard 17 days - six included triple workouts - at the U.S. Olympic Committee training center in the high altitude of Colorado Springs, Colo., Phelps will swim three or four events over the next three days, a light load for him.

Two of the nation's hottest 15-year-old female swimmers, Katie Hoff and Kate Ziegler, highlight the women's field here.

Hoff, of the NBAC's Harford satellite team, and Ziegler, of the Fish in Northern Virginia, had landmark performances at the Santa Clara International last month. Hoff won the 400 individual medley in 4:39.82, the second-fastest time in the world this year. Ziegler's 16:20.45 in the 1,500 freestyle is the third-fastest of the year in that non-Olympic event.

Hoff has made the trials cut in seven events and is looking to add some freestyle races to that list. She's seeded fourth in tomorrow's 200 free, behind Ziegler; Alyssa Kiel, a 17-year-old from Ohio; and Caitlin Reynolds, a 16-year-old Georgian. Ziegler, Kiel and Hoff also go in Sunday's 400 freestyle, where the NBAC's Meghan Sackett and Ellen Brooks have already qualified for the U.S. trials.

Ziegler and Kiel have the nation's third- and fifth-fastest times in the 800, tonight's only final.

While an Australian contingent that includes Ian Thorpe races this weekend at the Janet Evans Invitational in a test of the facility that will be used for the U.S. trials, Phelps will work in a more low-key atmosphere.

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More than 700 athletes from at least six states will compete in two 50-meter pools at the Meadowbrook complex in Mount Washington. There is no admission charge, a good deal considering that the list price for top seats at the sold-out swim finals in Athens is 200 euros, about $242 American.

At a glance

What: Argent Mortgage Long Course Championships

Where: Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center

When: Today through Monday; prelims (tomorrow through Monday) at 8 a.m., finals at 5:45 p.m.

Phelps' tentative races: Tomorrow, 200 freestyle; Sunday, 200 breaststroke and 100 backstroke; Monday, 200 butterfly


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