No pain is gain for Phelps

The Baltimore Sun

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Michael Phelps climbed out of the pool yesterday after swimming the 200-meter butterfly and waggled his right wrist. As he looked over his split times with Jon Urbanchek, one of his coaches at Club Wolverine, Phelps smiled, then shrugged.

You wouldn't know it by looking at his face, but Phelps had just swum the second-fastest time ever recorded in the 200 fly, 1 minute, 53.31 seconds.

It was a ho-hum moment, but also one that was more illuminating than his race, which he won easily. It offered definitive proof that Phelps' wrist injury, which required surgery and left behind a visible purple scar, is pretty much behind him. It's unlikely to be an issue again.

"With everything I've had to deal with this year," Phelps said to Urbanchek, again flexing his right wrist, "that's all I wanted." Does he even notice the injury anymore? Even a tiny tweak?

"Not at all," Phelps said.

Phelps' time was faster than the one he swam at the Missouri Grand Prix a year ago, when he broke his world record despite not even bothering to shave his goatee. He set the world record again last March, with a time of 1:52.09 at the FINA World Championships.

The excitement level yesterday in the Mizzou Aquatics Center, though, didn't quite shake the building the way it did a year ago. When you're Phelps, fast times are so routine that it's tough to get people excited unless you're chasing your own historic marks.

"I wanted to be mid [1:53] or better, and I did that," Phelps said. "It's a step in the right direction. At every meet, I just try to improve on what I did last year. If I'm faster than I was last year, I feel good."

Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, was traveling and didn't get to Columbia until the afternoon, but he told Phelps over the phone that if he went faster than his mark from last year, Bowman would consider it an "A-plus-plus" grade.

"I guess I passed," Phelps said with smirk.

Yesterday's final was also a good test for Phelps to see how he handles swimming finals in the morning. The Missouri Grand Prix is the only U.S. meet this year that features morning finals, which is how the schedule is set for the Beijing Olympics because of television. Even the U.S. trials in July will have the typical schedule of finals in the evening, a decision that bothers Urbanchek some.

"You might have a whole different Olympic team if you had morning finals at the trials," said Urbanchek, who has coached at the University of Michigan since 1982 and serves as a special adviser to the U.S. Olympic team. "It might be good to take a team to Beijing that can swim well in the morning."

Still, it's unlikely to be an issue for Phelps, especially in the 200-meter butterfly, which might be his strongest event. Phelps owns the eight fastest 200 fly times in history.

"I feel like I'm in a pretty good rhythm," Phelps said. "To be able to do that right now is a good sign."


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