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Six down, 2 to go: Phelps smashes own WR in 200 IM

8/15/2008

BEIJING -- Michael Phelps collected the sixth gold medal and
stuffed it in his warmup jacket. No time to even savor that one as
he rushed off to swim again.

It was just No. 6, after all, equaling his haul from Athens in
2004.

The most important ones are still to come.

Phelps made it 6-for-6 at the Beijing Games with another
world-record triumph Friday, his bid to take down Mark Spitz and
the grandest of Olympic records looking less suspenseful by the
day.

The American hung on the lane rope in a familiar pose after
winning the 200-meter individual medley but showed little emotion
other than raising his left arm when his time of 1 minute, 54.23
seconds flashed on the board -- more than two seconds ahead of the
next guy.

With that, he quickly moved on.

"The next two races are pretty important," said Phelps, whose
sixth world record in China erased his own mark of 1:54.80 at last
month's U.S. trials. "I have to conserve as much physical and
emotional energy as I can."

Phelps matched his wins from Athens, where he also collected two
bronzes. He's already the winningest athlete in Olympic history
with 12 golds, but his sights are on eight in Beijing.

Spitz won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games. Phelps has two
more events to leave any doubt he's the greatest Olympian ever.

Ryan Lochte tried to pull off a daunting double, going against
Phelps just 29 minutes after winning the 200 backstroke. He
couldn't keep up, though he did hold on for bronze. Laszlo Cseh of
Hungary picked up his third silver of the games -- all of them
trailing Phelps.

"It's not a shame," Cseh said, "to be beaten by a better
one."

When the official times were posted, Phelps extended his right
hand to Lochte in the next lane. The friends shook hands and patted
each other on the head.

Later, they yukked it up on the medal stand before Phelps
hustled off to grab his racing gear; he had to come right back for
the semifinals of the 100 butterfly.

"I switched from my dress sweats to my parka, shoes, threw my
cap and goggles on and then they pushed us on out. No time," he
said. "The medal was in my warmup jacket."

History can't wait.

A half-hour after winning another gold, Phelps was
second-fastest behind Milorad Cavic of Croatia in the 100 fly,
setting himself up to tie Spitz's record in Saturday's final. World
record-holder Ian Crocker of the U.S. bounced back from a
disappointing swim in the prelims to post the third-fastest time.

"There wasn't much time," Phelps said, "but I think there's
going to be a lot of time for me to rest over the next 18 hours or
so, and I'll be able to be ready for tomorrow morning's 100."

If all goes according to plan, Phelps will get No. 7 in the fly
-- his signature stroke -- and have the coronation Sunday in the 400
medley relay. The Americans are always heavily favored for gold in
that one.

Nevertheless, he's taking nothing for granted, especially in the
fly. Crocker has the best time ever (though it was three years ago)
and Cavic looked strong in both the preliminaries and semifinals.

"It's never a relief," he said. "Tomorrow is going to be a
tough race. For me to be a player in that race, I have to be closer
at the 50. If I'm not, then it will be tough. I was over a body
length behind at the 50 in the prelims and came up a bit short, so
I have to be there."

Still, he showed little signs of tiring from the grueling
schedule. He's already raced 15 times and has two more left -- both
going for gold.

"I actually don't feel too bad now," Phelps said.

That can't be encouraging for those swimmers who've come up with
all sorts of amusing theories for Phelps' dominance. He's from
outer space. He's come back from the future in a time machine. He's
some sort of human rocket.

The official Xinhua News Agency dubbed Phelps "the American
superfish."

For those who believe Phelps might be using more illicit methods
to produce these times, he shot down any speculation about doping.

"Anybody can say whatever they want, but I know I'm clean,"
said Phelps, who took part in a special U.S. anti-doping program
that subjected him to additional, more sophisticated testing.
"People can question it all they want, but the facts are the
facts. I have the results to prove it."

Phelps' win was the 21st world record set in swimming during the
Olympics, with two days left.

Two days that could make history.