- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2005

MONTREAL (AP) — Ian Crocker put the Athens Olympics behind him — and Michael Phelps, too.

Crocker broke his own world record in the 100-meter butterfly last night and turned a much-anticipated rematch with Phelps into a rout.

The two Americans were virtually even off the blocks, but Crocker already had a sizable lead when their heads emerged from the water. He was about a half-body length ahead at the turn and didn’t have to worry about Phelps making one of his patented charges in the final 50 meters.

With arms pumping furiously, Crocker stretched out his advantage all the way to the wall. He touched in 50.40 seconds — easily eclipsing the record of 50.76 that he set in beating Phelps at last year’s U.S. Olympic trials.

But Phelps won the race that really mattered, overtaking Crocker for the gold in Athens. That didn’t sit well with Crocker, who was determined to regain the upper hand in his trademark event, even though it meant beating the world’s best swimmer.

“It was definitely my goal to break the record,” he said. “I didn’t know it would be by that much. When you’re racing against Phelps, you always have to assume it’s going to take a world record to win.”

Crocker didn’t have to worry about Phelps, who took the silver but wasn’t even close to the winner at 51.65. Ukraine’s Andriy Serdinov claimed the bronze.

“I haven’t trained much fly this year,” Phelps said. “But I don’t want to use that as an excuse. That was a horrible swim for me.”

While Phelps has won four gold medals and now a silver at the world championships, he’s not happy with his performance. He failed to qualify for the final of the 400 freestyle and was a disappointing seventh in the 100 free.

Two of his four golds have come on relay teams, and Grant Hackett is likely to win the most individual medals on the men’s side. The Australian star already has two golds and a silver, and he’s an overwhelming favorite in today’s 1,500 free.

“Every thing that has happened this week is a wake-up call,” Phelps said. “It’s all going to be used for motivation.”

Crocker, who defended his world title from 2003, is motivated to become the first swimmer to break the 50-second barrier in the 100 fly. He’s only looking forward — not back to Athens.

“The Olympics didn’t end quite the way I wanted them to,” Crocker said. “I didn’t happen to be the best on that day.”

It was another big night for the Africans, an emerging force at these championships.

South Africa’s Roland Schoeman won the 50 free for his second gold of the week even though he wasn’t feeling well, and Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry completed a sweep of the 100-200 backstroke.

“I think being sick takes off the pressure You don’t know what to expect,” Schoeman said. “Last night I felt like death.”

He felt on top of the world after swimming the length of the pool in 21.69 — just five-hundredths of a second off Alexander Popov’s world record and beating Popov’s meet record from 2003.

“I went to bed last night and said some prayers: ‘Big guy, take care of me tomorrow,’” Schoeman said. “I did feel a little bit better. Not a huge amount, but enough to go 21.6. I kind of like being sick.”

He stared defiantly at the scoreboard and held up one finger. Popov’s world record was safe for another day, but Schoeman is closing fast.

“I’m not upset about the world record,” he said. “That will come.”

Croatia’s Duje Draganja took the silver and Poland’s Bartosz Kizierowski the bronze.

Coventry won the 200 back in 2 minutes, 8.52 seconds, adding to her victory in the 100 and a silver-medal showing in the 200 individual medley. The silver went to Margaret Hoelzer of the United States, with Japan’s Reiko Nakamura taking the bronze.

Coventry will go down as one of the biggest female stars in Montreal.

“I’m just excited I’m at a point where I’m not freaking out about being in a world championship,” she said. “Being a world champion, it gives me confidence and helps me swim my best.”

Kate Ziegler isn’t doing so bad, either. The 17-year-old from Great Falls, Va., looks like America’s next great distance swimmer, winning the 800 freestyle to go along with an earlier victory in the 1,500 free.

The teenager finished more than two seconds ahead of Canada’s Brittany Reimer in 8:25.31. The real race was for second, with Reimer holding off Olympic champion Ai Shibata of Japan by 0.27.

“It helped to have done well in the 1,500,” Ziegler said. “I had a lot of confidence. I knew my endurance was there.”

The Australian women won two more golds.

The powerful 400 medley relay team just missed breaking it’s own world record, settling for a meet record of 3:57.47. That was just 0.15 off their world standard, set last summer in Athens.

Natalie Coughlin gave the Americans an early lead in the backstroke — nearly 1 seconds ahead of Sophie Edington — but the Australians surged to the lead with breaststroke world record holder Leisel Jones.

Jess Schipper (butterfly) and Libby Lenton (free) finished off the dominating win.

“We have such an awesome team this year,” Schipper said. “I’m just glad to be part of it.”

The U.S. team, which also included Jessica Hardy, Rachel Komisarz and Amanda Weir, grabbed the silver in 3:59.92. Germany took the bronze, while the Russians were disqualified.

Australia’s Danni Miatke won the 50 butterfly, a non-Olympic event. The next two spots went to a pair of Swedish swimmers, Anna-Karin Kammerling and Therese Alshammar. Coughlin was sixth.

“People ask you when you say that you’re a swimmer, ‘Are you any good?’” Miatke said. “Now I’ll be able to tell them, ‘Yes, I’m a world champion.’”

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