Phelps Col­lects His 6th Gold, But Won’t Get 8

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports - By Amy Ship­ley

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.

BY WOLF­GANG RATTAY — REUTERS

Michael Phelps won his sixth gold medal on sched­ule, but won’t get a chance to make it eight on the last day.

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