Phelps demolishes competition in 400 IM; Beard returns
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Michael Phelps cruised to an 8.68-second victory in the 400-yard individual medley at the Southern California Grand Prix meet Sunday night, flirting with his American record before falling off the pace.
Amanda Beard, seeking to make her fourth Olympic team at 26, finished third in the 200 breaststroke. It was Beard's first meet since November, when she swam a smaller competition in Seattle.
Phelps touched first in 3 minutes, 38.28 seconds -- 2.02 seconds off his American mark set in 2006.
"It was all right," he said. "I would've liked to have gone a little faster."
The six-time Olympic gold medalist had an impediment, though. His goggles filled with water after he dived in. "I was struggling to see the walls. You have to deal with trying things that come your way," he said.
Phelps' second-fastest time ever put him well ahead of Tamas Kerekjarto of Hungary, who trains at Southern California and finished in 3:46.96.
It was Phelps' third win of the four-day meet, to go with victories in the 100 and 500 freestyles Saturday night. He scratched the 50 free final after swimming morning prelims to focus on the distance race.
Beard lost the 200 breaststroke to 25-year-old Olympian Tara Kirk, who won in 2:07.94, well off her American record. Caitlin Leverenz, a 16-year-old from Tucson, Ariz., was second in 2:08.59. Beard finished in 2:10.76.
"I try to keep quiet about the younger kids because I was 14 once, but I definitely feel older. I look over and the 16-year-olds are going, 'Woo!' I got a ways to go," Beard said. "Thank goodness, I'm injury-free. I'm tired after tonight. I have to go home and eat a lot of carbs and get 12 hours' sleep."
Kirk knows the feeling.
"It is different training when you're a 20-something than a teenager," she said. "I like racing against these girls. They bring back why I'm doing this, I love swimming."
Beard has been back training at Southern California under Dave Salo, who coached her when she won medals at the 1996 Olympics as a 14-year-old toting a teddy bear to the starting blocks.
"Our relationship has changed so much," he said. "When she was 14, she just did what I told her. Now it's a much more adult relationship."
Two-time Olympian Kaitlin Sandeno won her third title, taking the women's 400 IM in 4:05.86 ahead of Leverenz.
Sandeno, who trains with Phelps in Ann Arbor, Mich., won the 500 Saturday and the 1,000 free Friday.
Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce wrapped up a solid start to the Olympic year with double victories before catching a red eye flight. She won the 200 free in 1:43.70, then came back and claimed the 50 free in 21.75, ahead of Jessica Hardy. Joyce won the 100 free Saturday night.
"I'm a little surprised, but it gives me a lot of confidence," Joyce said.
Matt Grevers continued his success at the year's first major meet. The 22-year-old sprinter who trains in Tucson, Ariz., swept the 50 free and 200 free. Grevers won the 200 back and finished second to Phelps in the 100 free Saturday.
Grevers said the implications of the Olympic year are obvious on deck.
"It's in the air," he said. "Everyone is hungry for it."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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