- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

MONTREAL — Michael Phelps made his final swim of the world championships in a morning preliminary. Grant Hackett closed in more appropriate fashion last night — running away with an unprecedented fourth straight title in his trademark event.

Hackett won the 1,500-meter freestyle, keeping alive a streak that began at the 1998 championships in his native Australia. After repeating in 2001 and 2003, he came to Montreal trying to become the first swimmer to win the same event at four straight worlds.

No one was close, even though Hackett appeared to tire a bit at the end of a grueling meet.

“It’s obviously as awesome feeling to achieve something like that and to be the first person in history to do it,” Hackett said. “It’s over. I’ve completed it, and it’s very satisfying for me.”

Hackett won swimming’s version of the mile with a time of 14 minutes, 42.58 seconds. That was eight seconds off his world record but comfortably ahead of American Larsen Jensen.

Hackett captured his third individual gold medal — one more than Phelps — to go along with a silver. He also won a bronze in the relays.

“It was feeling a bit tough out there,” Hackett said. “A tough swim. It’s been a big program and I’m just happy with the results I got.”

Jensen out-raced David Davies for the silver in 14:47.58, beating the British swimmer by a mere 53-hundredths of a second.

Even though Phelps defeated Hackett in their only head-to-head meeting, the 200 free, the big Aussie was the biggest men’s star in Montreal.

Phelps’ last event was the preliminaries of the 400 medley relay, an event the Americans won in the evening with their most prominent swimmer cheering from the stands.

After a disappointing seventh-place finish in the 100 free and a loss to Ian Crocker in the 100 butterfly, Phelps was left off the team that swam the final. He still got a gold, but not how he wanted.

The U.S. quartet — Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen, Crocker and Jason Lezak — won the final event of the championships in 3:31.85. Russia was second and Japan third.

Counting three relay medals, Phelps finished with five golds and a silver — impressive by any standard except his own.

Admittedly, he wasn’t in top condition, his time in the pool distracted by all the trappings of fame: promotional appearances, talk shows, judging duties at the Miss USA pageant.

“This whole week has been a big learning experience and sort of a big eye opener,” he said. “A lot has happened over the past year and I’m not really swimming how I would dream of swimming right now.”

No kidding.

He’s hardly been the same guy who broke five world records at the 2003 Barcelona world championships or won a record-tying eight Olympic medals in Athens last summer, including six golds.

Phelps said he needs to get back to his training regimen of swimming, sleeping and swimming some more.

“In the upcoming year, there need to be more decisions that are going to help my swimming, not hurt my swimming,” he said, citing the increased travel and sponsor obligations that cut into his training time after Athens.

The other stuff, he said, “hurts the swimming.”

Sixteen-year-old Katie Hoff, one of the new stars of the American team, completed a sweep of the individual medley, adding the 400 title to her earlier 200 championship.

Hoff took the gold in 4:36.07, breaking a meet record that was older than her, held by a swimmer whose country no longer exists: East German Petra Schneider’s 4:36.10 from the 1982 championships.

“I wasn’t even thinking about winning or championships records because that kind of stuff just really gets me nervous,” Hoff said.

Last summer, she was overcome by emotions at her first Olympics. The teenager failed to qualify for the 400 IM final, vomiting and breaking down in tears on the deck afterward.

“I was just trying to get renewed confidence in this event because I’ve been a little shaky since Olympic trials,” Hoff said. “I was just aiming to get a best time and I did it.”

Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe claimed silver behind Hoff, and another U.S. swimmer, Kaitlin Sandeno took the bronze.

Coventry, who won two golds and two silvers in Montreal, was named the top female swimmer. The men’s award went to Hackett.

The United States, which led the medal count with 15 golds and 32 overall, was named the top team. It was the Americans’ largest medal haul at the world championships since 1982.

“This meet has been incredible for everyone, world records here and there, and I think the U.S. team has done so well,” Hoff said.

Laszlo Cseh of Hungary won the men’s 400 IM, filling the void when Phelps decided to drop his world-record event at these championships to try out some new races. The winner touched in 4:09.63, with Italy’s Luca Marin getting silver and Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli the bronze.

With his eyes on Phelps, Cseh said, “I am first, but I wanted to swim under 4.09.”

Libby Lenton won the women’s 50 free — a chaotic sprint from one end of the pool to the other. A time of 24.59 gave the Aussie her third gold medal at this meet, the other two coming in relays.

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