Spitz passes baton to Phelps

Sunday, July 11, 2004

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Mark Spitz draped the medal around Michael Phelps' neck and pulled the teenager close, whispering in his ear.

Then Spitz hopped atop the podium, held Phelps' right hand in the air and pointed at him as if to say, "He's the man now."

The swimming baton was passed Saturday.

Michael Phelps made it three in a row at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, dominating the 200-meter butterfly to stay on course in his bid to break Spitz's record of seven gold medals.

In a symbolic moment, the two met for the first time during the award ceremony. It seemed as if Spitz was giving his blessing for the 19-year-old to take down one of sport's most revered records when he gets to Athens next month.

"I think he really has a chance to do this," said Spitz, who won his seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games. "That's one of the things I told him."

The only disappointment for Phelps: He came up just short of his own world record in the 200 fly, going out a little too fast and fading to a time of 1 minute, 54.31 seconds. The mark that still stands, 1:53.93, was set at last year's world championships.

It was Phelps' third individual win of the trials, following a world-record performance in the 400 individual medley and Friday's victory in the 200 freestyle. He has three more individual events to swim at the trials, facing his busiest schedule yet today and Monday. If all goes well, he will swim eight races over those two days.

"I'm feeling pretty good right now," he said.

Phelps also has earned a spot on the 800 freestyle relay team and hopes to swim the other two relays, as well, giving him as many as nine chances to eclipse Spitz.

In the womens's 200 freestyle, 16-year-old Dana Vollmer upset American record-holder Lindsay Benko in the final.

In the other final Saturday, 15-year-old Katie Hoff knocked off three-time Olympian Amanda Beard in the 200 individual medley with a time of 2:12.06.

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