Crocker hands Phelps second defeat

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Michael Phelps heads to Athens trying to bounce back from another loss.

Gary Hall Jr. will try to defend his title as the world's fastest Olympic swimmer.

And Brooke Bennett has to watch it all from home.

Phelps took his second defeat in as many days when Ian Crocker broke his own world record in the 100-meter butterfly at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials Tuesday.

Crocker led at the turn and withstood a challenge coming down the stretch, touching the wall in 50.76 seconds -- the sixth world record of the trials. Phelps finished in 51.15, the fourth-fastest time in history but not fast enough.

"I knew it was going to take a world record to win that race," Phelps said. "Ian got too far ahead of me. It was right on my best time. Hopefully in five weeks, we'll change a few things and get faster."

Aaron Peirsol beat Phelps in the 200 backstroke final Monday -- also setting a world record. Crocker's time beat the mark of 50.98 he set at last year's world championships in Barcelona.

Bennett won't get a chance to become the first swimmer to win three straight Olympic gold medals in the 800 freestyle. She finished third behind Diana Munz and Kalyn Keller.

Bennett won the 800 at Atlanta and pulled off a 400-800 double at Sydney four years ago. But she hasn't been the same swimmer since undergoing surgery on both shoulders in 2001, struggling just to get out of the preliminaries.

She swam much better in the final, but it wasn't enough. Her time of 8:29.39 left her about 3 seconds behind runner-up Keller.

Munz won a sprint to the wall in 8:26.06, barely edging Keller (8:26.33).

Hall will get a chance to win his second straight gold in the 50 free. He beat rival Jason Lezak with a time of 21.91.

Their rivalry was spurred on by trash-talking and other antics by Hall, Lezak and their representatives. But the two seemed to get along just fine after the 50, shaking hands and exchanging smiles.

While Phelps became the first U.S. swimmer to qualify in six individual events at the Olympics, the last two days cast doubts on his quest to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in 1972.

Phelps and his coach, Bob Bowman, plan to decide in the next day or two whether to swim all six individual races in Athens, or go with a lighter schedule that might keep him stronger but give him fewer chances to beat Spitz.

Phelps has qualified for at least one relay and also wants to swim the other two, giving him as many as nine races at the Olympics.

Crocker established his supremacy in the 100 butterfly with an upset of Phelps at the 2003 world championships. Both swimmers eclipsed Phelps' previous world record on that night -- a race that prompted Phelps to put up a picture of Crocker in his bedroom as extra motivation.

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