- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2008

— When he cruised to a win in the 200 butterfly Wednesday morning, Michael Phelps showed what he could do with a full night’s rest.

When he rolled with three teammates an hour later to win the 4x200 medley relay, Phelps showed that maybe he doesn’t need that much rest.

On a speedy morning at the Water Cube where world records were set in the first four races, Phelps moved past the halfway point in his bid for Olympic immortality and is showing no signs of fatigue, continuing to dominate his competition regardless of race distance or stroke.

In making it 5-for-5 at these games, Phelps became the all-time Olympic leader in gold medals when he won the 200 butterfly, breaking his own world record (1 minute, 52.03 seconds). In the relay, Phelps swam lead off and was followed by Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens and Peter Vanderkaay. The team smashed its world record, finishing in 6:58.56.

Phelps overcame a problem with his goggles during the first race.

“I couldn’t see anything the last 100 - my goggles pretty much filled up with water,” he said. “It kept getting worse and worse through the race. and I was having trouble seeing the walls to be honest.”

The three races remaining for Phelps are the 200 individual medley (his preliminary heat is Wednesday morning EDT), the 100 butterfly and the 4x100 medley relay. But Wednesday was his toughest task - the only session in which he had two finals.

That Phelps rolled in the 200 fly isn’t surprising. Since setting the world record in 2001, nobody else has held it, and he has now broke it seven times, dropping his time by nearly three seconds. He hasn’t lost the race in six years.

“I wanted to break the record,” he said. “I wanted to go 1:51 or better, but for the circumstances, I guess it’s not too bad.”

Phelps trailed New Zealand’s Moss Burmester by 0.03 seconds after the opening 50 meters, but he took the lead for good, although by only 0.03 seconds, at the halfway point. He pulled away during the third length of the pool, extending his lead to 0.53 seconds and getting under the world record.

The relay figured to be a breeze since the United States qualified nearly three seconds better than its seven rivals.

By the halfway point, after Phelps and Lochte swam, the lead was 4.23 seconds. With 200 meters remaining, the United States was nearly four seconds under its own world record.

On the smoggiest morning of the games, the atmosphere inside the arena was bizarre at best. During Phelps’ 200 fly race, the crowd - except for a pocket of U.S. fans that included several men’s basketball players - was quiet. Only during the final 50 meters, when Phelps was under world record time, was there a buzz and even then, it wasn’t a roar.

While the big record remains in play, Phelps put himself in rare company with his two additional golds.

The 11 golds are the most ever. He entered the session tied with Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, Finland runner Paavo Nurmi and Americans Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis.

The 13 total medals are the most by a U.S. athlete and tied for third among all countries. If he medals in his final three events, he will trail only Latynina (18).

The seven individual golds are tied for second all time with Lewis and Czechoslovakia’s Vera Caslavska and one behind American Ray Ewry.

“It takes a certain amount of guts to do what Michael is doing at this level,” said teammate Aaron Peirsol, a two-time gold medalist in the 100 backstroke. “The way he’s attacking this meet, he’s not just winning, he’s destroying everything.”

Before Phelps added to his satchel, Towson’s Katie Hoff finished out of the medals in the 200 freestyle won by Italy’s Federica Pellegrini, who broke her own world record with a winning time of 1:54.82. Hoff was third after each of the three turns before fading to fourth.

In the 200 IM, Hoff again finished fourth, 0.34 seconds behind Natalie Coughlin. Australia’s Stephanie Rice won her second gold medal of the games, out-touching Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry in a world record time of 2:08.45.

While Phelps has been conditioned for nearly a decade for his program and is 23 years old, Hoff is only 19, and the whispers began after she lost a big lead in the 400 free that she was overextending.

U.S. women’s coach Jack Bauerle scoffed at that theory.

“She’s a terrifically conditioned athlete,” he said Tuesday. “On the outside, it looks like she’s disappointed. She has her head up high now, and she’s a tough, tough kid. Every time she’s been beaten, it’s been by a great swim.”

In the 100 freestyle semifinals, American Jason Lezak (47.98 seconds) qualified sixth. France’s Alain Bernard broke his own world record in the first semifinal (47.20) only to see it broken five minutes later by Australia’s Eamon Sullivan (47.05).

Americans Elaine Breeden (sixth) and Kathleen Hersey (eighth) moved into the 200 butterfly finals. In the men’s 200 breaststroke, Scott Spann qualified third, but Eric Shanteau did not advance.

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