Phelps Collects His 6th Gold, But Won’t Get 8
MELBOURNE, Australia, April 1 — Everything seemed to be going according to plan when Michael Phelps lost his quest for a record eight gold medals at the 12th FINA World Championships. He wasn’t even in the pool when he suffered his first defeat of the week. The unthinkable happened in a near-empty Rod Laver Arena Sunday morning, hours before the event’s evening finale.
Phelps had won six gold medals and hoped for two more on the last day of competition. He had just advanced in Sunday’s 400-medley relay heats, ensuring a place in that evening’s final and seemingly setting the stage for making history. But his plans were upset by his teammates about an hour later.
The U.S. 4x100 medley relay team was disqualified during the morning heats when Ian Crocker left early on the butterfly leg. The most Phelps can win now is seven.
Officials ruled Crocker left 0.01 of a second earlier than the allowable start time. Crocker got off the blocks with a reaction time of -0.04 of a second. The most allowed is -0.03.
There was a sad irony in Crocker’s inadvertent mistake, as he had been figured the athlete most likely to defeat Phelps in an individual race here. But Phelps had claimed his sixth medal Saturday night in the 100-meter butterfly after chasing down Crocker over the last 50 meters. That loss pushed Crocker into the Sunday morning heats.
“It is disappointing,” said Neil Walker, who swam the freestyle leg. “Michael is doing something nobody has ever done before . . . It’s just bad luck.”
Things had looked so good at the finish. The U.S. team of Ryan Lochte, Scott Usher, Crocker and Walker had easily won its heat. The men had taken the lead over Japan on what appeared to be a fabulous leg by Crocker. At first, no one knew what had happened.
“Nobody likes to do that at any time,” U.S. team coach Eddie Reese said. “Ian is very, very sensitive. This is real tough on him.”
Though Phelps clearly did not expect a hitch in Sunday’s relay, the last race of the morning, he seemed keenly aware of the challenge of making it through the last day of competition.
Sunday “is a big day,” Phelps said after the race. “I know that. It’s something I’m ready for, something I’ve been looking forward to for some time. I’m excited to hit the water.” He had to do it shortly after 10 a.m. Just over 12 hours after grinning with satisfaction on another medal stand, Phelps stood poolside in a nearempty arena wearing his standard pre-race glare, wanting to swim well enough to advance to the finals of the 400 individual medley, but not so well he drained his already aching body before the evening’s finals. Phelps did not struggle to qualify Sunday morning. He did, however, struggle to get out of bed. “I’m hurting a little bit,” Phelps said. But “this is the most important day. This is the final exam of the week, the last big test for me.
“I don’t really want to think about [the fatigue]. It’s been a long week. But the most important thing now, besides being tired and feeling sore, it’s getting up tonight and racing hard.”
Phelps had concluded Saturday’s race without so much as a pumped fist. He had stood hanging on the side of the pool, his mouth agape and chest heaving as he gasped for air. He had finished in 50.77 seconds, just .05 ahead of Crocker, who had hoped to win his third straight world title in the event. Though it represented the first race in five days in which Phelps did not participate in a world record, much had been achieved with that one victory.
Phelps tied Ian Thorpe’s 2001 record for world titles in one meet. He surpassed Aussie Grant Hackett as the most decorated swimmer in world championship history with 19 medals. His 16 golds are also tops. And he beat — barely — his most challenging adversary.
Reese wasn’t sure where Phelps was when the disqualification happened, though he speculated that he might have been already back at the team hotel. Phelps said he had done nothing all week besides swim, eat and sit in his room watching television to conserve energy for the finals.
Walker speculated that Crocker, disappointed over his finish Saturday, might have been trying to compensate for it in the morning. Crocker did not speak with reporters.
“It was probably a little bit of overexcitement,” said Walker, who elected to speak for the team. “It’s just the way it goes. Sport is like that . . . We saw the relays and it looked fine. [When informed of the disqualification] it was disbelief. We thought, ‘Okay, they made a mistake.’ ” There was no mistake. “They do tape all of the starts and we looked at the tapes,” Reese said. “I trust the machine.”
After a few more solitary hours at the hotel, Phelps will return later for his last chance at gold, the 400 IM. Phelps, who topped all qualifiers in the morning, is expected to be tested Sunday night by Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh, who took gold in the event at the 2005 world championships, when Phelps opted out of the event. Tunisian Oussama Mellouli also could challenge, and Lochte can’t be counted out.
“So far, we’re six for six in the way we want to go,” he said. “We’re definitely heading in the right direction, but [Sunday] is a hard day. “I have a lot on my plate.” Just a bit less than he thought.
Michael Phelps won his sixth gold medal on schedule, but won’t get a chance to make it eight on the last day.