Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Peirsol sets backstroke record

US OLYMPIC TRIALS Aaron Peirsol and Michael Phelps were both under record pace for the first three laps, but Peirsol led all the way in the last heat


Aaron Peirsol starts toward a new world record time in the men's 200m backstroke at the US Olympic trials in Long Beach, California, Monday.


Not so fast on those seven gold medals for Michael Phelps.

Aaron Peirsol sent a clear message to the world's greatest swimmer Monday, setting a world record in the 200m backstroke and handing Phelps his first loss of the US Olympic swimming trials.

Amanda Beard also set a world record -- bringing the total to five in the first six days of the trials -- but 10-time medalist Jenny Thompson failed to claim a spot in the 100m freestyle.

Peirsol and Phelps were both under record pace for the first three laps, but Peirsol led all the way and pulled away on the final leg for a time of 1 minute, 54.74 seconds -- breaking his own mark of 1:55.15 set two years ago.

"Peirsol had a great race. It was a great battle," Phelps said. "I always like to win, but Peirsol is a great competitor. In five weeks, I guess we'll figure out who's No. 1 and who's No. 2."

Phelps took the second Olympic spot at 1:55.86 but found out how difficult it will be to race in so many events against specialized swimmers. He's entered six individual events at the trials, hoping to compete in up to nine races at the Athens Games.

Peirsol is a backstroker exclusively, having gone nearly four years since his last loss in the 200m.

"I don't ever want to lose my race," he said. "I love that thing. Phelps is pretty good coming home, but I am too in that event. He went for it. It was a pretty tough race."

When it was over, Peirsol climbed atop a lane rope, pumping his fist at the cheering Southern California crowd. He is a native of nearby Irvine.

``I've never really felt that elated after a race,'' the normally laid back Peirsol said.

Phelps, on the other hand, rested his head against the wall of the pool, then climbed slowly out of the water. Maybe the 19-year-old was just tired -- he already had raced a prelim in the morning, and he had three more races at the evening session.

After the loss, Phelps returned just 28 minutes later to win the 200m individual medley. He faded in the second half of the race but still won easily at 1:56.71 -- 0.77 seconds off his own world record. Ryan Lochte took the second Olympic spot at 1:59.71.

"I actually think I'm starting to warm up a little bit," said Phelps, who finished up the night with the second-fastest time in the 100m butterfly semifinals -- three races in a little over an hour. "I'm feeling better and better."

Phelps became the first American male to qualify for the Olympics in five individual events, and he's claimed a spot in the 800m freestyle relay as well.

The first final of the night produced Beard's world record. She didn't waste any time reclaiming her mark in the 200m breaststroke, dominating a field that included four other Olympians.

She won by nearly 5 seconds at 2:22.44, breaking the record that Australia's Leisel Jones had established Friday at a meet Down Under. Jones' time of 2:22.96 edged the record Beard had shared with China's Hui Qi.

"It wasn't really about making a statement," Beard said. The record "wasn't really on my mind, but a lot of people were asking, `Are you going to go for it?' Being able to break a world record pushes you more. I always enjoy it."

Beard is heading to her third Olympics, qualifying in her third event of the trials. She was the teenage sweetheart at Atlanta in 1996, lugging a giant teddy bear to pool deck and winning three medals. She added a bronze in the 200m breaststroke at Sydney four years ago, and heads to Athens as a favorite.

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