Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Phelps beaten at U.S. Olympic trials

Peirsol, Beard set world records

By Paul Newberry
The Associated Press

LONG BEACH, Calif. - Aaron Peirsol climbed atop the lane rope, pumping his right fist in the air over and over again. Michael Phelps leaned his forehead against the wall of the pool, looking downright exhausted.

No one said winning seven gold medals was going to be easy.

The world's best swimmer endured his first defeat of the U.S. Olympic trials on Monday, unable to keep pace when Peirsol broke his own world record in the 200-meter backstroke.

"You could say it sent me a message, it was an eye-opener," said Phelps, who finished second. "We know what we're trying to attempt is not easy."

Phelps bounced back to win the 200 individual medley, making him the first American male to qualify for five individual swimming events at an Olympics. For good measure, he returned at the end of the night to advance to the 100 butterfly final.

In all, three races in just over an hour.

"It was the hardest night I've ever had," Phelps said.

Amanda Beard also set a world record - there have been five in the first six days of the trials - but 10-time Olympic medalist Jenny Thompson failed to claim a spot in the 100 freestyle, finishing fifth.

That was high enough to earn consideration for the relay.

"I'm disappointed with my time and performance," said Thompson, whose eight gold medals have all come in relays. "I'm looking forward to being part of the relay in Athens because it's going to be really fast."

Speaking of fast, Peirsol and Phelps were both under record pace for the first three laps. Peirsol led all the way and pulled away on the final leg for a time of 1 minutes, 54.74 seconds - breaking his own mark of 1:55.15 set two years ago.

"I don't like to lose," Phelps said. "It definitely drives me to go back to the drawing board and try to change a few things."

Phelps took the second Olympic spot at 1:55.86 but found out how difficult it will be to race in so many events against specialized swimmers. He's got six individual events at the trials, part of a plan to compete in up to nine races in Athens.

Peirsol is a backstroker exclusively, having gone nearly four years since his last loss in the 200 - a silver-medal performance at Sydney Olympics.

"I don't ever want to lose my race," he said. "I love that thing."

When it was over, Peirsol climbed atop the lane rope that separated him from Phelps, acknowledging the cheering Southern California crowd. It was an uncharacteristic show of emotion for the laid-back native of nearby Irvine.

Now, it's on to Athens, where Peirsol hopes to beat Phelps again - even if means denying him a chance to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Games.

"We're not trying to take anything away from him," Peirsol said. "If he gets five gold medals, I won't be the spoiler. He still would have done something special."

Phelps climbed slowly out of the water after the backstroke. Maybe the 19-year-old was just conserving energy - he returned 28 minutes later to win the 200 individual medley.

Phelps faded in the second half of the race but still won easily at 1:56.71 - 0.77 off his own world record. He's now qualified in five individual events, matching Shirley Babashoff's performance at the 1976 trials, and also won spot on the 800 freestyle relay.

Ryan Lochte took the second Olympic berth at 1:59.71.

The first final of the night produced Beard's world record. She didn't waste any time reclaiming her mark in the 200 breaststroke, dominating a field that included four other Olympians.

Beard won by nearly 5 seconds at 2:22.44, breaking the record that Australia's Leisel Jones had established Friday at a meet in Brisbane. Jones' time of 2:22.96 edged the record Beard had shared with China's Hui Qi.

"Now I'm not tied," Beard said. "It's fun to actually break it."

Beard is heading to her third Olympics, having qualified in three events. She was the teenage sweetheart at Atlanta in 1996, lugging a giant teddy bear to pool deck and winning three medals. She added a bronze in the 200 breaststroke at Sydney four years ago, and looks forward to a head-to-head battle with Jones in Athens.

"We always bring out the best in each other," Beard said.

Caroline Bruce was the surprise runner-up, earning her first trip to the Olympics in 2:27.22. Former Olympians Kristy Kowal (third), Megan Quann (sixth) and Staciana Stitts (eighth) failed to qualify for Athens. Tara Kirk, already going to the Olympics in the 100 breaststroke, finished fifth.

"I thought I was in like fifth or sixth place," Bruce said. "I guess not. I can't believe it."

Another surprise occurred in the 100 freestyle when Kara Lynn Joyce upset Natalie Coughlin, both of them ahead of Thompson.

Joyce won with a time of 54.38, just four-hundredths of a second in front of Coughlin. The top two qualified individually for the Olympics, while Thompson, fifth at 55.03, could still land a spot on the relay team.

Thompson was edged out for fourth by Maritza Correia, who became the first black woman to make the U.S. swimming team. She'll be eligible for the relay.

"It's a great honor," Correia said. "I hope I'm the first of many."

Thompson, who has never won an individual gold medal at the Olympics, earlier qualified in the 100 butterfly. She has one more chance to make an individual event in the 50 free.

But both of Thompson's individual medals were in the 100 free - a silver in 1992, a bronze in 2000. She won't be racing that event in Athens.

Coughlin is the U.S. record-holder in the 100 free, but she wasn't too upset about losing to Joyce. America's top female swimmer earned another spot on the Olympic team, having earlier won the 100 back.

"How can I be disappointed?" Coughlin said. "I just made a second event at the Olympics. Kara Lynn did an amazing job."

In the 50 freestyle semifinals, Jason Lezak equaled the fastest time in the world this year to win his heat in 21.98. He already won the 100 free on Sunday.

Gary Hall Jr., hoping to add to his eight Olympic medals, had the second-fastest time in the semis at 22.12. Hall shared the 50 gold at Sydney with now-retired American Anthony Ervin.

"It's the big show tomorrow night," Hall said.

Margaret Hoelzer was fastest in the women's 200 backstroke semifinals at 2:12.57, far off the pace of Coughlin's American record (2:08.53). She didn't enter the event at the trials, preferring to focus on just two races.

In the 100 fly, world record-holder Ian Crocker put up the best time of the semis, winning his heat in 51.25. Phelps won the other heat in 51.89, setting up another head-to-head showdown on Tuesday.

Phelps hopes to fare better in that one than he did against Peirsol.

LOCALS FAIL IN PRELIMS: Six local swimmers failed Monday to advance out of preliminaries.

St. Xavier grad Jayme Cramer, seeded 11th in the 100-meter butterfly, was disqualified. Fellow St. X grads Peter Carothers and Scott Ransenberg placed 33rd and 37th, respectively, in that event.

Ursuline grad Margy Keefe placed 14th in the 800 free. St. Ursula grad Katie Ball was 22nd in the 800. Miami University senior Trisha Lamb finished 42nd in the 200 backstroke.

Ursuline grad Erin Phenix is the only local swimmer with an event remaining. She's seeded 11th in the 50 freestyle, which begins today.

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