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Hackett collects top honor at world meet
MONTREAL -- Grant Hackett swam to a historic victory, then picked up a well-deserved trophy as top man at the world championships.
Michael Phelps? He spent the final night cheering from the stands.
The striking contrast made two things abundantly clear: Hackett is one of the greatest swimmers in history, while Phelps spent a little too much time since the Olympics working the talk-show circuit.
Hackett became the first swimmer to win four straight world titles in the same event, capturing another 1,500-meter freestyle Sunday. No one was close to the 6-foot-6 Australian, even though he appeared to tire a bit at the end of a grueling meet.
"It's obviously an awesome feeling to achieve something like that and to be the first person in history to do it," said Hackett, taking the lead role on an Australian team that had to get by without Ian Thorpe. "It's over, I've completed it, and it's very satisfying for me."
Hackett won swimming's version of the mile with a time of 14 minutes, 42.58 seconds. That was eight seconds off his world record but comfortably ahead of American Larsen Jensen, who outraced Great Britain's David Davies for the silver.
Hackett captured his third individual gold medal -- one more than Phelps -- to go along with a silver and a bronze. The Aussie stretched out his own record for world championship medals to 17.
"It was feeling a bit tough out there," Hackett said. "It been a big program, and I'm just happy with the results I got."
Even though Phelps defeated Hackett in their only head-to-head meeting, the big Aussie was top dog in Montreal. He set a world record -- there were nine in all during the meet -- and received the FINA trophy as top male swimmer.
"It was great to watch him race," U.S. women's coach Jack Bauerle said. "Very inspiring."
Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry, who won two golds and two silvers, was named the best female.
The United States, which led the medal count with 15 golds and 32 overall, received the award as top team. It was the Americans' largest medal haul at the world championships since 1982.
"This meet has been incredible for everyone, world records here and there, and I think the U.S. team has done so well," said 16-year-old Katie Hoff, who capped a brilliant meet by winning the 400 individual medley -- her third gold medal.
Phelps finished with five gold medals and a silver, impressive by any standard except his own.
Admittedly, he wasn't in top condition, his time in the pool distracted by all the trappings of fame: promotional appearances, talk shows, judging duties at the Miss USA pageant.
"This whole week has been a big learning experience and sort of a big eye opener," he said. "I'm not really swimming how I would dream of swimming right now."
He wasn't the same guy who broke five world records at the 2003 Barcelona world championships or won a record-tying eight Olympic medals in Athens last summer, including six golds.
Phelps said he needs to get back to his training regimen of swimming, sleeping and swimming some more.
"In the upcoming year, there need to be more decisions that are going to help my swimming, not hurt my swimming," he said. The other stuff "hurts the swimming."
Phelps' last event was the morning preliminaries of the 400 medley relay, an event the Americans won in the evening with their most prominent swimmer relegated to the cheering section. Phelps gets a gold, too, but not the way he wanted.
The U.S. quartet -- Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen, Ian Crocker and Jason Lezak -- closed out the championships in 3:31.85. Russia was second and Japan third.
Hoff, one of the new stars of the American team, completed a sweep of the individual medley, adding the 400 title to her earlier 200 victory. Coventry was second and the bronze went to American Kaitlin Sandeno.
Hoff's time of 4:36.07 broke a meet record that was older than her, held by a swimmer whose country no longer exists: East German Petra Schneider's 4:36.10 from the 1982 championships.
"I wasn't even thinking about winning or championships records because that kind of stuff just really gets me nervous," Hoff said.
Last summer, she was overcome by emotions at her first Olympics. The teenager failed to qualify for the 400 IM final, vomiting and breaking down in tears on the deck afterward.
"I was just trying to get renewed confidence in this event because I've been a little shaky since Olympic trials," Hoff said.
Laszlo Cseh of Hungary won the men's 400 IM, filling the void when Phelps decided to drop his world-record event at these championships to try out some new races.
The winner touched in 4:09.63, with Italy's Luca Marin getting silver and Tunisia's Oussama Mellouli the bronze.
With his eyes on Phelps, Cseh said, "I am first, but I wanted to swim under 4.09."
Libby Lenton won the women's 50 free -- a chaotic sprint from one end of the pool to the other. A time of 24.59 gave the Aussie her third gold medal at this meet, the other two coming in relays.
Marleen Veldhuis of the Netherlands was second, with the bronze going to China's Zhu Yingwen.
Two non-Olympic events were on the final night.
Australia's Jade Edmistone set a world record in the 50 breaststroke with a time of 30.45, beating the mark of 30.57 set by Britain's Zoe Baker in 2002. Jessica Hardy of the U.S. was second, followed by Australia's Brooke Hanson.
Aristeidis Grigoriadis of Greece won the men's 50 backstroke, the next two spots going to Matt Welsh of Australia and Britain's Liam Tancock. American Aaron Peirsol, who won the 100 and 200 back, settled for fifth.