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Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008

2008 BEIJING OLYMPICS: SWIMMING

Phelps picks up third gold


Staff writer

BEIJING — Perfection is incredibly difficult to attain. Michael Phelps just makes it looks easy.

News photo
Back-to-back titles: Natalie Coughlin of the United States competes in the women's 100-meter backstroke final at the Water Cube on Tuesday in Beijing. Coughlin defended her Olympic title in a time of 58.96 seconds. AP PHOTO

The U.S. swimming star is now a perfect 3-for-3 in his mission to win a record eight gold medals in a single Olympics.

Phelps collected his third gold of the Beijing Summer Games on Tuesday morning, registering a victory in the men's 200-meter freestyle final at the Water Cube. He shattered his own world record, completing the race in 1 minute, 42.96 seconds. The old mark was 1:43.86.

South Korea's Park Tae Hwan nabbed the silver in 1:44.85, giving him his second medal of the Beijing Games. He won the gold in the 400 free.

The bronze went to American Peter Vanderkaay, who clocked in at 1:45.14.

"I wanted to try to get out in the open water and I was in the outside lane, so it was kind of difficult for the others to see me," said Phelps, who swam in Lane 6. "I just wanted to get out there and try to hold on.

"I knew Tae Hwan was going to have a good last 50 (meters), so I tried to stay as far ahead as I could in the first 100 and 150."

Park possibly had the best view of Phelps' brilliant effort.

"It's really fast and it's my honor to compete with him," said Park, who was in Lane 5.

"I am quite satisfied with the result and I was in really good shape. I appreciate the crowd (which) came from Korea to support me," Park added.

Forty six minutes after his triumph in the 200 free, Phelps returned to work. He won the second 200 butterfly semifinal and, oh yeah, set a world record, touching the wall in 1:53.70.

Japan's Takeshi Matsuda was victorious in the first semifinal in 1:54.02.

The men's 200 butterfly final is on Wednesday morning.

Based on the results of Tuesday night's 4x200 freestyle semis, Phelps and three U.S. teammates will compete in the relay final on Wednesday. The race is set for 12:19 Japan time, or 58 minutes after Phelps races in the 200 butterfly final.

American Natalie Coughlin received her second consecutive gold medal in the women's 100 backstroke. Controlling the pace of the race, Coughlin started strong and finished in impressive fashion in 58.96.

Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry grabbed the silver in 59.19 and Margaret Hoelzer of the United States took home the bronze in 59.34.

For Japan, Reiko Nakamura placed sixth (59.72) and Hanae Ito was eighth (1:00.18).

Coughlin considered the victory unbelievable.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet," she said. "When I first saw the time, I thought they had made a mistake. It was a really fast time. Then I saw my name there and realized that I had got it."

Nakamura, the bronze medalist in the 200 back in Athens and the fourth-place finisher in the 100 there, was disappointed after her performance.

"I was in good condition, but I was not strong mentally today. I regret that," she said. "Probably the tension was the factor for that, but I also could not control my mind."

Physically, Nakamura was not in top form either.

"I swam calmly in the first 50 meters, but my body didn't move well in the last part of the race after that," she admitted. "I started thinking that the last part could be decisive, then my body got rigid."

Looking ahead to her specialty race, Nakamura offered herself this advice in an impromptu pep talk: "I would like to control myself properly in the women's 200-meter backstroke."

Australia's Leisel Jones triumphed in the women's 100 breaststroke in 1:05.17, while Asami Kitagawa placed eighth (1:08.43).

American Aaron Peirsol set a world record en route to a win in the men's 100 back (52.54). He won the same race in Athens.

Junichi Miyashita finished eighth (53.99).

History beckons

BEIJING (AP) Michael Phelps climbed out of the pool, unzipped his skin-tight suit and ambled over to chat with his coach.

"Well, you're tied," Bob Bowman reminded him.

"That's pretty cool," Phelps replied.

Yawn. This guy is making monumental feats look ridiculously easy.

Phelps etched his name with Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis among the winningest Olympians ever with his third gold medal and third world record in as many days.

In winning the 200-meter freestyle Tuesday, Phelps ran his career Olympic total to nine golds and avenged his only individual loss in Athens four years ago, when a 19-year-old Phelps took on the 200 free just so he could compete with Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband.

He finished third that night in what was called the "Race of the Century." This time, it was hardly a race at all.

Phelps all the way.

"I hate to lose," he said. "When you lose a race like that, it motivates me even more to try to swim faster."

Phelps is now on course to beat Spitz's 36-year-old record of seven golds in a single Olympics.

While chasing Spitz, he'll take care of another historical landmark, one he wasn't even aware of until earlier this year.

Phelps's ninth career gold tied him with Spitz, Lewis, Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina and Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi for the most in Olympic history.

"To be tied for the most Olympic golds of all time, with those names, in Olympic history . . ." Phelps said, before pausing and letting out a slight chuckle.

"The Olympics have been around for so many years, that's a pretty amazing accomplishment."



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