Phelps jumps to 200 butterfly semis; Hoff advances

Updated: March 27, 2007, 2:12 AM ET
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- The "Race of the Century" gears up for a second go-round. If only Ian Thorpe was still around, but he retired.

Michael Phelps and Pieter Van den Hoogenband will meet in the 200-meter freestyle, a major test in the American's plans to challenge for eight gold medals at next year's Beijing Olympics and their first duel in the pool since the 2004 Athens Olympics. One person who surely will be watching is Mark Spitz, who set the hallowed standard of seven golds in Munich 35 years ago.

"I'm going to find it on a TV," said Spitz, who's in Melbourne on business but couldn't be at Rod Laver Arena for Tuesday night's race. "If he wins against Pieter van den Hoogenband, it's going to really make him feel a lot of confidence that he has a chance now to win seven gold medals."

Phelps occupied himself Tuesday morning by qualifying first for the 200 butterfly semifinals. The world recordholder clocked 1 minute, 55.78 seconds.

"I felt good," he said. "The only thing that was really big was the last 50. I just had to turn it on."

Davis Tarwater surprised himself by having the next-best time behind his teammate Phelps.

"It's more than I could ask for," Tarwater said. "I have a lot of confidence going into tonight. Usually I'm a lot better at night."

In the 200 free semifinals Monday, Phelps was second quickest behind Hoogie, who was under Thorpe's world-record pace through 100 before falling off and finishing in 1:46.33. Phelps' time was 1:46.75.

"I think I can go a bit harder in the final," Van den Hoogenband said.

Phelps downplayed the chance of a world record in the final. But he sure looks forward to facing Hoogie.

"Anything is possible. But Thorpe swam the record in nearly perfect fashion," he said. "It would make a dream come true for me, but if it's there, it's there. If not, then not."

In 2004, Hoogie finished second and Phelps third behind gold medalist Thorpe.

Grant Hackett's struggles continued in the 800 free. The Aussie, who won the last two world titles, qualified fifth for the final. Hackett finished third in the 400 free on Sunday.

"I was trying to be really conservative," he said. "I sort of sat there comfortable. You don't want to put everything into it."

His countryman Craig Stevens was the quickest.

The American duo of Peter Vanderkaay and Erik Vendt failed to make the eight-man final. Vanderkaay was ninth and Vendt 10th, extending the bad luck of their Michigan training group.

"I kind of fell apart," Vendt said. "[I took it out] with too much effort. Pretty disappointing, but my focus has been the 1,500 all year."

Klete Keller, who trains with them in Ann Arbor, has failed to get out of the preliminaries in two events.

Brendan Hansen and Kosuke Kitajima were at it again Tuesday in qualifying for the 50 breaststroke. The American was third fastest in 27.64, while the Japanese was seventh in 27.97. Cameron Van Der Burgh of South Africa led 16 men into the semifinals in 27.49. American Scott Usher finished 28th.

"That's the first time I've ever done the 50 internationally," Hansen said. "Boy, it was fun. No one's really expecting anything of me in the 50. It's just racing, it's like schoolyard stuff."

Hansen defended his world championship in the 100 breast when he touched first in 59.80, with Kitajima right behind in 59.96. Brenton Rickard of Australia earned the bronze.

Libby Lenton and Jess Schipper gave Australia a 1-2 finish in the women's 100 butterfly final. American Natalie Coughlin earned the bronze.

A night after winning the 200 individual medley, Katie Hoff was back in the water Tuesday for the 200 free. She easily advanced to the semifinals in 1:58.17 -- second to Laure Manaudou of France, who led the way in 1:57.66.

American Dana Vollmer also moved on.

Hoff won her second consecutive world title in the 200 individual medley Monday night.

Roland Schoeman of South Africa defended his title in the men's 50 butterfly -- a non-Olympic event. American Ian Crocker was second.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press