Phelps, Sandeno win twice; Peirsol loses 200 back
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Even in heavy training, Michael Phelps was better than the competition in his first two races of the year.
Phelps easily won the 100- and 500-yard freestyles in the Southern California Grand Prix of Swimming on Saturday night.
Phelps and several other Olympians are using the year's first meet to fine-tune their strokes under racing conditions in preparation for the world championships in Australia in March.
"To be able to have those back-to-back swims, it definitely shows that things are falling into place," he said. "I am starting to come around to some of the old training that I was doing before 2003-04, when I had the two best years of my life."
A goateed Phelps won the 100 free in 42.43 seconds over Ian Crocker, who finished in 42.88. The duo is better known for their butterfly rivalry.
"I tried to go out as fast as I could, which still wasn't that fast," he said. "But I was pretty happy with the time. It's my best time."
Phelps tried to wiggle out of swimming the shorter race, but his coach Bob Bowman "reminded me I have 17 swims in Melbourne."
Phelps got in some distance work in the 500 free, leading all the way to win in 4:14.57. He beat four of his Club Wolverine training partners in the eight-man final.
Phelps distracted himself for the evening ahead by watching three quarters of the Indianapolis-Baltimore NFL playoff game. His hometown Ravens lost 15-6.
"I wasn't happy," he said. "I was on my Blackberry the whole entire time before I got into the water, trying to cheer them on."
Ryan Lochte handed Aaron Peirsol a rare defeat in the 200 backstroke, although it came over short-course yards instead of Olympic meters.
Peirsol, the world record holder, hasn't lost the event in meters since earning a silver medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
"I guess all those times he beat me, I had to give him one," Lochte said.
Taking it out quickly, Lochte finished in 1:40.99 and Peirsol touched in 1:42.02.
"I knew he's a good back-half swimmer, so I had to go fast," Lochte said. "I was feeling a lot of pain."
The always laid-back Peirsol didn't seem too concerned about the defeat, pointing out that yards and meters "are two different things."
"Ryan just outswam me every step of the way," he said.
Natalie Coughlin won the 100 free in 47.03 -- the second-fastest time by an American in history. She set the American record of 47.00 four years ago.
"I definitely think I could go faster than that, I just don't have that many opportunities to race this event," she said.
Kaitlin Sandeno also was a double winner, adding the 200 butterfly and 500 free titles to her victory in the 1,000 free Friday.
She also came to the aid of Courtney Eads in the 500.
Sandeno hit the wall, checked her placing on the scoreboard and looked to her family in the stands, wondering why a hush had settled over the Belmont Plaza Olympic pool.
Eads, who had felt tightness in her chest beforehand, floundered late in the race and appeared to be having breathing problems. Lifeguards jumped in to pluck her out of the water and Sandeno helped, too. Paramedics checked Eads out and her coach said she would be fine.
"I've never seen it [before]," Phelps said. "The air quality here is tough. It's hard to breathe."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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