LONG BEACH, CALIF. — LONG BEACH, Calif. - How did a boy from Baltimore who has made a case that he's the best swimmer ever celebrate his most remarkable feat?
Michael Phelps damned the lactic acid in his system and didn't warm down. For the first time in weeks, he passed on nutritional supplements and slowly drained a can of Coke. Dinner was going to include "a lot of fat."
That was not the announcement the swim world was waiting for, after Phelps qualified for the Athens Olympics in an unheard-of sixth individual event at the U.S. team trials last night.
"I can say I've done something no one else has ever done before," said Phelps, who had raccoon eyes after 10 days of wearing goggles under the Southern California sun, a similarly consistent force of nature.
For the second straight day, Phelps suffered a loss, but he again pushed an ace from Longhorn Aquatics to a world record. On Monday, it was Aaron Peirsol in the 200 backstroke. Yesterday, it was Ian Crocker dipping to 50.76 in the 100-meter butterfly.
Phelps finished in 51.15, just off his personal best. The men have produced five world records in this meet, and Phelps has been a factor in three.
Phelps began a week ago today with the 400 IM, setting a world record. Last night was his 17th race in six events, and the last in which he'll wear the colors of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.
Despite his fatigue, Phelps had reason to toss and turn last night.
He and coach Bob Bowman said they will decide by sundown tonight what individual events he will swim in Athens. Sometime between an afternoon news conference with Cindy Crawford and the taping of the ESPYs, Phelps should make his Athens intentions known.
To put what Phelps did into perspective, only two of his countrymen have swum four individual events at the Olympics in the last century. Only one, Tom Dolan in 1996, has been good enough to try three individual events in the past three Olympics.
Phelps won four events here, but none elicited a reaction like last night's, the happiest runner-up finish he has had since the 2000 trials, when he made his first Olympic team.
Crocker let Phelps lead their victory lap around the pool deck. Phelps high-fived officials and fans in the front row, including his sisters after they bolted down from their suite.
Their high-stakes duel in this event began at the 2002 Summer Nationals, when Phelps first showed his international versatility and dealt Crocker a loss that snapped him out of the malaise he had settled into after winning relay gold in Sydney.
"It's easy to get complacent, which is what a lot of us were doing before Michael came along," Crocker said. "It's always been my goal to put my stamp not only on an event, but the sport of swimming itself, like Michael is."
After Crocker got revenge at the 2003 world championships, his photo was taped to a wall in Phelps' bedroom in Rodgers Forge. Crocker still has a superior start and turn, the difference last night, when Phelps went faster in the second 50.
"I knew it was going to take a world record to win that race," Phelps said. "There are things we can improve between now and Athens."