Sunday, August 10, 2008

Michael Phelps has made it known he would like to try some other events before he retires after the 2012 Olympics, and eliminating the 400-meter individual medley would be ideal in his mind.

So three-and-a-half hours before the 400 IM final Sunday morning at the Water Cube, Phelps made a deal with coach Bob Bowman.

If Phelps set a world record, Bowman said, the race could be removed from his plate.

Consider it gone.

Phelps started his bid toward OIympic history by winning his first final of the games in a world record time of 4 minutes, 3.84 seconds before a crowd that included President Bush and Phelps´ mother and two sisters.

“It´s one of the hardest races, and I would like to have a different approach,” Phelps said after winning his seventh career Olympic gold. “In my opinion, that was my last one.”

For Phelps, it´s one up and seven to go to break Mark Spitz´s record set in 1972.

And after outlasting teammate Ryan Lochte and Hungary´s Laszio Cseh over the final 100 meters, the moment got to Phelps, who was emotional during the medal ceremony.

“I don´t know why I was,” he said. “I wanted to sing on the medal podium, but I couldn´t stop crying. I was just happy to get the first one under my belt, and thinking about everything made me more and more emotional.”

Even if Phelps were able to sing, it would have been a struggle — organizers bungled “The Star Spangled Banner” — the start was off, and the anthem was cut off short of its conclusion.

While Phelps´ busy program started with a win, Katie Hoff settled for bronze in the women´s 400 IM. Australia´s Stephanie Rice won in 4:29.45, breaking the world record Hoff set earlier this summer. Larsen Jensen won bronze in the men´s 400 freestyle, and the women´s 4x100 free relay team anchored by Dara Torres won silver.

Phelps led for all but two brief stretches — after the opening 50 meters when Cseh broke out fast and after 150 meters when Lochte nudged ahead with a strong backstroke leg. Phelps, though, took a 0.20 seconds lead at the halfway point.

“I guess you could say I went out too fast,” third-place finisher Lochte said.

Said Phelps: “I wasn´t comfortable after the first 200 — those guys were pretty close to me, and that´s usually not how it is until the 300. I knew I was going to need a strong breaststroke when we all turned together at the wall. That made my breast faster, and then the free is all adrenaline.”

Phelps owns seven of the 10 fastest 400 IM times in history.

“Anytime you get close to Michael Phelps, he takes it to another level,” Cseh said.

Next up for Phelps is a 200 freestyle preliminary race Sunday night. It´s the first of his busiest stretch of the games.

On Tuesday morning Beijing time, he will swim a 200 free semifinal and about 75 minutes later the 4x100 free relay final. Later in the day, it´s a 200 butterfly heat race. On Wednesday morning, Phelps swims the 200 free final and 200 fly semifinal less than an hour apart.

Hoff also has a busy schedule, and she started with her first Olympic medal. She was never better than second at any of the turns and was fifth halfway through the race. Rice and Kirsty Coventry traded the lead twice. American Elizabeth Beisel, the top qualifier, finished fourth.

Rice showed no effects of a shoulder problem she mentioned after her heat race Saturday night. At last year´s world championships, Rice lost the 400 IM final to Hoff by nearly nine seconds.

In the 400 freestyle, Jensen reached the final by setting an American record (3:43.10, also the fastest time in the world this year). He was eighth after the first 100 meters and fifth with 150 meters to go, but he couldn´t catch Korea´s Taehwan Park, who led the final five turns and edged China´s Lin Zhang by less than a second. Peter Vanderkaay of the United States was fourth.

Torres, appearing in her fifth Olympics, gained a spot for the United States on her leg of the relay. The Netherlands was first and Australia third.

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