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Phelps, Spitz meet for first time

7/11/2004

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Mark Spitz draped the medal around
Michael Phelps' neck and pulled the teenager close, whispering in
his ear.

Then Spitz hopped atop the podium, held Phelps' right hand in
the air and pointed at him as if to say, "He's the man now."

The swimming baton was passed Saturday.

Michael Phelps made it three in a row at the U.S. Olympic
swimming trials, dominating the 200-meter butterfly to stay on
course in his bid to break Spitz's record of seven gold medals.

In a symbolic moment, the two met for the first time during the
award ceremony. It seemed as if Spitz was giving his blessing for
the 19-year-old to take down one of sport's most revered records
when he gets to Athens next month.

"I think he really has a chance to do this," said Spitz, who
won his seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games. "That's one of the
things I told him."

The only disappointment for Phelps: He came up just short of his
own world record in the 200 fly, going out a little too fast and
fading to a time of 1 minute, 54.31 seconds. The mark that still
stands, 1:53.93, was set at last year's world championships.

It was Phelps' third individual win of the trials, following a
world-record performance in the 400 individual medley and Friday's
victory in the 200 freestyle. He has three more individual events
to swim at the trials, facing his busiest schedule yet on Sunday
and Monday. If all goes well, he will swim eight races over those
two days.

"I'm feeling pretty good right now," he said.

Phelps also has earned a spot on the 800 freestyle relay team
and hopes to swim the other two relays, as well, giving him as many
as nine chances to eclipse Spitz.

And now -- finally -- the two have met.

"Wow!" Phelps said. "That's probably one of the most exciting
moments I've had in sports."

Former world record-holder Tom Malchow won the 200 fly at the
Sydney Games, while Phelps finished fifth at age 15. The tide
turned over the past four years, with Phelps maturing into the
world's most dominant swimmer.

Malchow also is likely to make the team after finishing second
to Phelps, though he's fallen far behind the teenager. The
defending Olympic gold medalist was more than three seconds behind
at 1:57.37.

"Something's not right," the 27-year-old Malchow said. "I
don't know if it's physical or mental. I'm getting a little older,
and I really felt it this weekend."

In the womens's 200 freestyle, 16-year-old Dana Vollmer upset
American record-holder Lindsay Benko in the final. Benko scratched
from the 400 free to focus on the shorter event, but Vollmer caught
her at the finish to win with a time of 1:59.20.

Benko held on for second at 1:59.29, while Kaitlin Sandeno and
Rhi Jeffrey also earned relay spots by finishing third and fourth.

Vollmer has a rare ailment that could cause her heart to stop at
any time. She keeps a defibrillator nearby while competing, but
refuses to give up the sport she loves.

"I don't accept that anything is wrong with me," Vollmer said.

Sandeno had a grueling night, swimming two events just 15
minutes apart. She had the fifth-fastest time in the 200 butterfly,
advancing to Sunday's final. Dana Kirk was the top qualifier at
2:09.36.

In the other final Saturday, 15-year-old Katie Hoff knocked off
three-time Olympian Amanda Beard in the 200 individual medley with
a time of 2:12.06. Hoff is a member of the same swim club as
Phelps, North Baltimore.

Beard took second and a likely Olympic spot at 2:12.43. Both
already had made the team by winning other events -- Beard the 100
breaststroke, Hoff the 400 IM.

"I was just trying to give (Beard) a good race," Hoff said.

In the men's 100 freestyle, tensions between eight-time Olympic
medalist Gary Hall Jr. and Jason Lezak bubbled over again after
they met for the first time.

Lezak, who earned his lone gold by swimming a relay prelim at
Sydney, bristled at comments by Hall's agent, David Arluck, who
compared any talk of a rivalry to "Spud Webb kicking Michael
Jordan in the shins."

"Spud Webb was never the fastest sprinter in the world, which I
was in 2002," Lezak said. "I don't know what those guys are
thinking about."

At the spring nationals, Hall accused Lezak of spitting in his
lane before a race, calling it a weak attempt to psych out his
opponent. But Lezak has never acknowledged the spitting, saying
it's hard to consider Hall an adversary when he spends much of his
time away from the pool in non-Olympic years.

"Honestly, he hasn't even been around here for four years,"
Lezak said. "He just shows up for the Olympics."

Lezak sent a message in the semifinals, setting an American
record of 48.17. Hall put up the third best time, 49.30, sending
them both to Sunday's final.

"I'm one step closer to making the team," Hall said. "It's
just a race now."

Never afraid to speak his mind, Hall also lashed out at track
star Marion Jones, calling for her to be banned because of doping
allegations. Jones has denied using drugs and has not been charged
by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

"I hate that her defense is 'I never tested positive,"' Hall
said. "It's an undetectable steroid. It's still a steroid. She
still cheated. She should be banned for life. Everyone she has ever
associated with has cheated."

Ed Moses was trying desperately to make one more Olympic swim
team. The winner of gold and silver medals in Sydney, he is clearly
not at top form for the trials, having flopped badly in the 100
breaststroke.

His last chance to make the team is the 200 breast, but he was
just fifth-fastest in the semis at 2:15.00. Brendan Hansen, who set
a world record in winning the 100 breast, was easily the fastest at
2:10.76.

"He's on fire right now," Moses said. "I've just got to swim
my own race and do whatever it takes to make the team."

Moses, who raised the specter of food poisoning after the 100,
now says he is being treated with medication for a breathing
problem that has left him at just 50-60 percent capacity.

"It's little painful, but I'm not going to give up," he said.

Josh Davis can. The winner of three gold medals at the 1996
Atlanta Games, he failed to make the team after a dismal showing in
the 100 free.

Davis, 31, managed only the 30th-fastest time of the
preliminaries -- more than 3 seconds slower than Lezak.

"I did terrible," said Davis, who also won two relay silver
medals at Sydney. "It's just not happening. Every four years you
want to be on. It's not there."