- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2008

BEIJING | Michael Phelps continued his march toward Olympic history by cruising to a world record-setting victory in the 200-meter freestyle Tuesday morning at the Water Cube.

Phelps made it 3-for-3 - three gold medals, three world records - at these games by leading the race from start to finish and making it look effortless in the process. The winning time of 1:42.96 was 0.90 seconds under the record he set at the 2007 world championships.

Phelps, who took it easy during the first two rounds and came in as the fourth-fastest qualifier, propelled himself right to the lead. At the turns, he was 0.16, 0.71 and 0.89 seconds under the record.

By the 75-meter mark, his lead was a half-body length. Between 100 and 150 meters, he pulled away from Korea’s Taehwan Park and U.S. teammate Peter Vanderkaay.

“I wanted to try and get out into open water, and I was in the outside lane, so it was kind of difficult for the others to see me,” Phelps said. “I just wanted to get out there and hold on. I knew [Park] was going to have a good last 50, so I tried to start as far ahead as I could in the first 100 to 150.”

Phelps’ next gold will make career history.

With nine Olympic golds, he is tied with four athletes (including Spitz and Carl Lewis) for most all time. With 11 medals, he is tied for first among U.S. men with Spitz, Lewis and shooter Carl Osburn.

“It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment,” Phelps said of tying the gold medal mark.

The Americans continue to dominate the meet. After Phelps’ victory, Natalie Coughlin and Aaron Piersol repeated as champions in the 100 backstroke. Coughlin’s time of 58.96 seconds was an American record, and Piersol’s time of 52.54 broke the world record he set at trials.

Piersol was second at the turn.

“I just swam my own race,” he said. “We were trying to go 1-2 the whole time.”

Coughlin won her third Olympic gold.

“When I first saw the time, I thought they had made a mistake,” she said. “Then I saw my name there, and I realized that I’d got the [record]. … I didn’t feel great going into this meet. I had very strong training, but for whatever reason, the last few days before the meet, I didn’t feel as great as I wanted to. But I got my head together in time.”

Coughlin became the first woman to win back-to-back 100 backstroke gold medals.

“I heard that prior to the meet, which added a lot of pressure and made me nervous,” she said.

Matt Grevers was second in the 100 back, and Margaret Hoelzer was third behind Coughlin and former college teammate Kirsty Coventry. Rebecca Soni earned a silver in the 100 breaststroke, won by Australia’s Leisel Jones.

Katie Hoff qualified for the 200 freestyle final an hour after Phelps won the 200 free.

Soon after, Phelps was the top qualifier in the 200 butterfly semifinals by tying the Olympic record (1:53.70) he set Monday morning EDT.

“I don’t want to say I cruised, but I swam the way I wanted,” he said.

Phelps said the emotion of the thrilling 4x100 free relay win still was present when he returned to the pool.

“It’s hard to put that kind of race behind you,” he said. “I’ve never celebrated that much after a race in my life.”

Left on Phelps’ journey to history are nine more races and five more finals. His toughest session will be Thursday night EDT when he swims the 200 individual medley final and 4x200 free relay final less than 30 minutes apart. Also standing in his way are his teammates. While they helped him win the gold in the relay, several are poised to win gold of their own.

“I’m not even halfway done yet,” Phelps said. “Most of the important ones are coming up. Tomorrow is a pretty big morning with the 200 fly and the 4-by-200 relay.”

U.S. men’s team coach Eddie Reese admitted Spitz’s record is a topic of conversation when Phelps isn’t around.

“We think about the eight golds more than Michael does,” Reese said. “He just takes it once race at a time - he gets in the pool to warm up at 80 minutes, at 40 minutes and then he races and then he warms down. He just does all the simple things.”

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