- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS | Four months after deciding to keep swimming, Michael Phelps grabbed a world record that had eluded him for years.

He won the 100-meter butterfly at the U.S. national championships Thursday night in 50.22 seconds, lowering Ian Crocker’s mark of 50.40 set at the 2005 world championships in Montreal.

Phelps’ feat came two months after returning from a suspension that was part of the longest layoff of his career, which he considered ending when a photograph of him using a marijuana pipe surfaced.

“It really shows anything can happen if you put your mind to it,” Phelps said. “It feels good to get a best time.”

Wearing his usual Speedo LZR suit, Phelps led at 50 meters with a split of 23.83, just three-tenths off the world-record pace. Known for his strong finishes, the 14-time Olympic gold medalist pulled clear down the stretch to beat Tyler McGill, who touched in 51.06. Aaron Peirsol was third in 51.30.

“Crock had a ton more first-50 speed than I did. That’s something I’ve really been working on,” Phelps said. “I’ve always been able to come home pretty strong. I finally got the front half a little bit faster. If I can get that even faster, I’ll be in better shape.”

Phelps holds individual world records in the 100 and 200 flys, 200 and 400 individual medleys and the 200 free.

“They’ve all been absolutely incredible,” he said.

Phelps owned the 100 fly mark for a day at the 2003 world meet in Barcelona. But Crocker took it from him a day later, then lowered it twice more - something that has bugged Phelps ever since.

“To finally be able to get it tonight means a lot,” he said.

Last month, Phelps came close to claiming the mark when he won the event at a meet in Montreal with a then-personal-best of 50.48.

“Crock actually texted me after and wished me all the luck and telling me that was my record,” he said. “That meant a lot, from a competitor and a friend and a classy guy. We had amazing battles back and forth. Those are something I definitely miss.”

Crocker hasn’t swum competitively since losing the 100 fly to Phelps at the Beijing Olympics, where Phelps won a record eight gold medals.

Phelps’ victory gave him a spot in the event at the world championships later this month in Rome. He already qualified in the 200 fly and 200 freestyle as he continues his transformation from swimming middle distances to sprints.

Dara Torres is also going to Rome, having won the 50 free at age 42 despite an ailing left knee that has a torn tendon and arthritis. She plans to have surgery later this summer.

Torres clocked 24.43, well off her American record of 24.07 set at the Beijing Olympics, where she won three silver medals as a hero to weekend warriors everywhere. It will be her first appearance at the world championships since 1986.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to come out here and still race, but that time won’t medal at the world championships,” she said. “I guess I really don’t think about the age thing until I get out of the pool and I’m limping with my knee.”

She beat a field of women who weren’t born when Torres competed in her first of five Olympics in 1984. Olympian Amanda Weir took second in 24.70.

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