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Friday, August 4, 2006
Phelps gets close to medley record in victory

Associated Press

IRVINE, Calif. -- Michael Phelps flirted with his own world record in the 200-meter individual medley before settling for a victory over Ryan Lochte in the U.S. Summer National swimming championships Friday night.

Phelps was under world-record pace through the opening two legs of the four-stroke race. But he fell off during the breaststroke, when the crowd chanted, "Pull! Pull!", and had Lochte bearing down on him during the freestyle.

Phelps touched in 1 minute, 56.50 seconds. Lochte was second in 1:56.78 and Eric Shanteau third in 1:58.05 -- the three fastest times in the world this year.

"It hurt, but they're supposed to hurt," an out-of-breath Phelps said. "I wanted to close fast. Ryan and I have battled it out in that event and he's getting closer and closer."

Lochte finished second to Phelps in the 400 IM Tuesday and third behind him and Ian Crocker in the 100 butterfly Thursday.

"I've been training a lot harder," said Lochte, whose time was a personal-best by 2 seconds. "It's just a matter of time."

Phelps sneaked a peak at the scoreboard during the opening butterfly leg and saw he was on pace to break his world record of 1:55.94 set Aug. 9, 2003. It didn't happen, but he was pleased, anyway.

"It's faster than I went in the Olympics and last summer," he said.

Phelps is 5-for-5 so far this week, having collected his 32nd national career title. He will make a rare appearance in the 200 backstroke Saturday, the final day of the meet that decides the U.S. team for the Pan Pacific championships later this month in Victoria, British Columbia.

Jason Lezak, the American-record holder, also was under world-record pace in the opening 50 meters of the 100 freestyle. He won in 48.63 seconds -- second-fastest in the world this year.

"I go out fast and try to hold on. It was very painful to finish. I just grabbed for the wall," said Lezak, a 30-year-old from Irvine who was the crowd favorite. "This is my race right now until someone takes me down."

Neil Walker, the same age as Lezak, was second in 49.23. Cullen Jones, the 50 free champion Thursday, was third in 49.35.

"It's a work in progress," said Jones, who is trying to stretch his speed over 100 meters. "I've never gone 49 [seconds] in my life."

Jones had the fastest qualifying time of 49.17, then hit the 49-mark in the finals.

Jones knocked off his idols Lezak and Gary Hall Jr. in the 50 free.

"I didn't sleep at all last night," he said. "I was on cloud nine."

Kim Vandenberg, a 22-year-old swimmer representing UCLA, won the 200 butterfly in 2:08.51. Mary Descenza was second and Kathleen Hersey third.

Olympian Margaret Hoelzer won the 200 backstroke in 2:10.71. Elizabeth Beisel, a 13-year-old from North Kingstown, R.I., with the fastest qualifying time, was second and Teresa Crippen third.