Phelps refines his formula for winning

Times Staff Writer

The Bowman/Phelps swimming laboratory wrapped up three days of experimentation, of trials, and virtually no errors.

Drumroll, please. For Michael Phelps, it was six victories at the Santa Clara International Invitational as he set four meet records and tied another. And he turned 22 on Saturday.

His best effort came the next day. On Sunday night, Phelps took out the reigning world champion, Brent Hayden of Canada, in the 100-meter freestyle (49.10 seconds), went under 2 minutes in the 200 individual medley (1:59.71) and punctuated the meet by coming from behind to win the 100 backstroke in 54.45.

All this winning led to one question: When was the last time he lost a race?


“I try not to remember those,” Phelps said. “That’s one thing I really can’t stand. My least favorite thing is losing.... The one thing I’m not afraid of is failure. I failed a few times, and I’ve been able to get back up on the horse and keep going.”

There are rumors Phelps has lost in 2007. But that was in a meet in May in Ann Arbor, Mich., in the 1,500 freestyle, a rare appearance at that distance. Kidding aside, he did lose to Brendan Hansen in the 100 breaststroke in Long Beach in January. (Hansen, who was in Santa Clara, won his second race of the meet, the 200 breaststroke, in 2:13.49.) So having lost to Hansen is hardly a black mark, considering Hansen is the world-record holder. And that came in the midst of races on the same night against Ian Crocker in the 100 butterfly, Hansen in the 100 breaststroke and Aaron Peirsol in the 100 backstroke.

Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, was the architect of that experiment. It’s all about gathering information and insight on the road to next year’s Olympics in Beijing.

After Phelps talked about his hatred of losing, Bowman used many of the same words.

“Honestly, I think Michael hates to lose. I think about 90% of swimmers love to win and 10% hate to lose,” Bowman said. “Brendan Hansen and Michael are in the 10%. I will say he’s done it so many times, he has the confidence level it can be done. That really helps. He can dig down. What he does is when he really digs down, he gets more efficient.”

The three-race program Sunday, a lot like the Long Beach experiment, was a valuable tool.

“I think it’s really important,” Bowman said. “Even though it’s encapsulated into an hour and a half, it’s the same kind of stress level over the long meet, and that’s very hard to replicate in training.”

Phelps was eager to race Hayden, who tied for the gold medal in the 100 free at the world championships in the 100 free, and Eamon Sullivan of Australia, who was third in Melbourne.


Hayden looked at it a bit differently. Here, he was second in 49.34, and Sullivan third in 49.35.

“It’s a little nerve-racking,” said Hayden, who speculated Phelps might swim the 100 free in Beijing. “When you have somebody in that field like Michael Phelps, you really want to beat him. Especially when you consider that race to be your own because he doesn’t do it that often.”

If that sounded like he was edging into the territory of smack talk, Hayden, wearing a four-week beard due to come off today, politely steered away.

“He won it here last year too,” he said. “I’m not going to be disappointed about coming in second, all and all, I’m actually quite happy for the guy.”