Three with a splash
History is unfolding, and the view from the pool deck is just as incredible as it is from the stands.
Not only is Michael Phelps three for three in his quest to surpass swim legend Mark Spitz’s record seven gold medals in one Olympics, his run is assisting, and ultimatelyelevating, his U.S. teammates.
This was on full display this morning at the Water Cube. Phelps’ world record in the 200-meter freestyle was followed by six more medals for the Americans, including gold-medal performances from Natalie Coughlin and Aaron Peirsol, the latter also in a world record in the 100 backstroke.
Funny, but Phelps and Peirsol were Olympic roommates eight years ago in Sydney, teenagers giggling over girls and decorating their room with posters. Now they are redoing their resumes with Olympic gold medals and world records.
Phelps erased the tension almost immediately, leading by the first 15 meters and then seeming to shift into cruise control, lowering his own world record in the 200 freestyle, going 1 minute 42.96 seconds.
Next up was Coughlin, who defended her Olympic title in the 100 backstroke, in 58.96, an American record. Then Peirsol lowered his own world mark in the 100 backstroke, going 52.54. American teammate Matt Grevers was second in 53.11.
“What Michael’s doing, it is elevating everybody else’s performance here,” Piersol dsaid. " . . . I don’t think we could have planned it any better. The U.S. team is absolutely snowballing, totally.”
An interesting word from the Orange County-raised Peirsol in hot, humid Beijing, no less. But you get the idea.
He was indeed accurate. Rebecca Soni of USC’s Trojan Swim Club took second in the 100 breaststroke, and Peter Vanderkaay was third in the 200 free. Margaret Hoelzer took the bronze in the 100 backstroke.
The latter race had Coughlin slightly in disbelief.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” she said. “When I first saw the time, I thought they made a mistake. It was a very fast time. When I saw the one by my name, I thought they had made a mistake.”
Peirsol did his worrying beforehand, saying he spent a nervous night thinking about the rapidly improving Grevers and the rest of the field.
“I don’t know if you can compare it,” said Peirsol of his Olympic repeat of his 2004 win in the 100 backstroke. “Just in the sense that you never get used to it. It just feels as wonderful as it did the first time.”
Grevers thought that Peirsol was being overly modest and said the 25-year-old could still get faster.
“I pretty much got gold after Aaron,” said Grevers. ". . . He may not know it, but he beat the field by half a second. He kept saying it was close, but really he kind of killed us.
” . . . A lot of people in the race knew he was not exactly toying around with us the first two swims but saving energy and being a smart racer.”
Peirsol, of course, spent as much time answering questions about Phelps as he did about himself and Grevers. Phelps has rewritten the 200 free in a short time and did the same with Olympic history, winning his ninth gold medal. His effort ties the all-time Olympic record in that category, as he joined Spitz and three other legends.
Peirsol was asked if there could be another Phelps. “I’m not sure when. It might be once in a century you see something like this,” he said. “The way he’s attacking the meet, not just winning, but absolutely destroying everything.”
Didn’t someone by the name of Ian Thorpe used to swim this race?
No wonder Phelps had an smile of satisfaction. But it probably had more to do with that spectacular time.
Here, Phelps is three for three, all world records, including the classic cliffhanger of a 400 freestyle relay Monday morning. Finishing second to Phelps was Park Tae-hwan of South Korea (1:44.85). Vanderkaay was third in 1:45.14
The most difficult thing for Phelps so far may have been putting the relay, and Jason Lezak’s amazing anchor leg, in the rearview mirror.
“It wasn’t easy to put that behind you, all the emotion that went into that relay,” Phelps said.
He kept receiving messages from his friends, and he joked about telling them: “I’m not napping if you’re still texting me.”
But Phelps treated his difficult double this morning with relative ease, winning the 200 free and swimming the semifinals of the 200 fly in less than an hour.
He may not have the years of dominance of this event quite the same way he owns the individual medleys, but Phelps has lost only twice in a final of the 200 free since Athens. In Greece, he won bronze in the 200 free in a highly anticipated showdown with the now-retired Thorpe.
“I barely had enough time to relax in between races,” he said. “Being in Lane 6 (for the 200 free), I wanted to jump on the first 100 just to see what happened. The guys in the middle of the pool really wouldn’t be able to see me. By the time they did, hopefully I had enough ground where I could hold them off.”
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U.S. swimmers dominated in three of four swimming finals this morning. The gold medalists:
200 freestyle: Another world record in Beijing; has nine career golds.
100 backstroke: The first woman to repeat as champion in the event.
100 backstroke: Fourth straight Olympic win in the event, in world-record time to boot.