By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun –
INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Phelps essentially owns the 100-meter butterfly race, holding the U.S. and world records for it, and he kept his hold on it Thursday night by gliding to a first-place finish at the Grand Prix race at the Indiana University Natatorium.
But therein lies a current crack in his title of ownership: That glide to the wall, rather than a full stroke that would have given him a faster finish time, had his coach steaming over what by Phelpsian standards was a flawed victory.
“That was a terrible finish,” Bob Bowman said. “He needed another full stroke. He can do better than that.
“I can’t stand those finishes. He’s got to start making that important,” he said. “We’re at a point now where the details are important. We can’t just keep blowing them off till later. It is later.”
With the London Olympics, his fourth and last, approaching in four months, Phelps basically agreed. He said he was more upset at the way he won the butterfly than at losing his earlier race, the 100-meter freestyle.
“I think the biggest thing it shows is how much the little things matter,” he said.
“I know that more than anybody … that a hundredth of a second can mean a difference,” Phelps added, referring to his sliver of a victory in the Beijing Olympics, also in the 100-meter fly. “I gotta fix some of the really small things.”
Phelps finished second in the freestyle to Nathan Adrian, 23, who survived a swimming trunks malfunction: They split on takeoff.
“No!” Adrian, a Berkeley graduate, said when asked whether that had ever happened to him before. “Not even in practice.”
He said he put it out of his mind and plunged onward, touching the wall .14 of a second before Phelps, three lanes away, and stepping to the medal stand with a towel wrapped tightly around his hips.
“I had no idea it was that close,” Adrian said.
It’s nearly impossible to describe what it’s like to beat Phelps, he said, but he is happy when any potential relay teammate does well.
“Michael is the best swimmer of all time,” the sprinter said. “I’m just as excited to see a fast time next to my name as Michael’s because relays are that important to the U.S.”
The night was supposed to provide an early preview of one of the anticipated storylines of the Summer Olympics — Phelps going head to head against the swimmer who would take his place at the top of the swimming hierarchy, Ryan Lochte.
But those hoping for an early matchup on this first day of competition were disappointed. Lochte failed to swim fast enough in Thursday morning’s preliminary heats and ended up in the consolation rounds for the 100-meter freestyle and butterfly races. They still could meet in today’s 200-meter butterfly finals.
The rivalry features a pair of friends who are a study in contrasts — the blue-eyed, more laid-back Lochte against the darker, traditionally more intense Phelps. Lochte got the better of Phelps at last year’s world championships in Shanghai, winning five gold medals to the Baltimore swimmer’s four, beating him twice.
Still, Phelps is Phelps, and he has been on the comeback trail since acknowledging that he lost his fire for competition after his dazzling performance in the 2008 Olympics. As recently as this week, he was calling his results “horrendous” and “terrible,” and saying that it’s harder to recover from hard training as a 26-year-old than as a kid.
In his last meet, though, the Grand Prix held in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this month, Phelps pulled off victories in all three races he entered, including the second-best time in the world this year in the 100-meter freestyle at 48.49 seconds.
Phelps said Thursday that he’s “a lot closer to where I want to be than where I was the last three years.” Getting frustrated by races such as Thursday’s butterfly race tells him that his passion for the sport is back, he said.
He has found a new way to vent, as well as savor, the ups and downs of his career — by keeping a journal. He has referred to it this week, first telling an audience at a Boys & Girls Club event Wednesday about how he used to hate to write but now wants to make sure he forgets nothing about this final year as a competitive swimmer.
On Thursday, he said he has found his “little black book” helpful as a vessel for the good, the bad, the positive and the negative of his final quest for gold.
“I used to hold everything in,” he said.
Phelps’ North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammate Allison Schmitt won the 400-meter freestyle race with a time of 4:06:94, beating former NABC swimmer Katie Hoff and her current teammate, Gillian Ryan.
But Schmitt fell short in her 100-meter freestyle race, coming in third. The winner, Dana Vollmer, swam a fast 54.21, beating the meet record she set last year of 54.36. The 16-year-old phenom from Colorado Springs, Colo., Missy Franklin, came in second.
Vollmer, who credits Baltimore Olympic swimmer Anita Nall with helping her revamp her diet after discovering she had gluten and egg allergies, had a good night, also winning the 100-meter butterfly.