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Phelps demolishes competition in 400 IM; Beard returns

1/20/2008

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."