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Phelps Back in Pool After Relay Upset

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 16, 2004; 11:10 AM

ATHENS, Aug. 16 -- On the day Michael Phelps may swim his most dramatic race, he tried Monday morning to put behind him a monumental disappointment -- the U.S.'s bronze medal-winning performance in the 400-meter freestyle relay on Sunday night -- and get on with his demanding program.

Phelps, who has his marquee Olympic showdown with Ian Thorpe of Australia and Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands in Monday night's 200 freestyle final, warmed up for that race by easily winning his heat early Monday in another event -- the 200 butterfly. Phelps's time of 1 minute, 57.45 seconds in the 200 butterfly tied Japan's Takashi Yamamoto for the best of the morning, and easily put him into the semifinal later in the day. Phelps holds the world record in the event, and he will be heavily favored in the butterfly final on Tuesday.

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The most significant part of his performance, though, was getting over the let-down of the loss Sunday to both South Africa and the Netherlands in the relay.

"I wanted a strong [swim] this morning," Phelps told a U.S. swimming official after his heat. "I wanted to get into the stroke. It was a little hard after last night. It took a lot out of me emotionally, for sure. We really wanted that [gold] medal."

Bob Bowman, Phelps's coach with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and an assistant on the U.S. team, said he spoke with Phelps about the strategy for the rest of the meet.

"We just talked about, you know, it's over," Bowman said. "There's not one thing we can do about that. There's a lot you can do about today, and I thought he did a great job this morning. He seems to be doing pretty well."

Phelps, from Baltimore County, has no margin for error if he is to win seven gold medals and match Mark Spitz's performance in 1972 for the most in history. He has already won one individual gold -- in the 400 individual medley -- but has just six events remaining.

Tonight in the 200 freestyle, he won't be the favorite. Both Thorpe, the world-record holder, and van den Hoogenband, the defending Olympic champion, posted faster times in the semifinals. Van den Hoogenband's time of 1:46.00 was the standard, with Phelps trailing by more than a second.

"He's definitely the favorite," Bowman said of the Dutchman, "and deservedly so."

In other preliminary races this morning, Katie Hoff, the 15-year-old from Abingdon, Md., easily advanced out of the heats of the 200 individual medley. Hoff, considered a favorite for a medal in the 400 IM on the first day of the meet, failed to even reach the finals in that event, her best. After this morning's race, she smiled with relief.

"It was really difficult, just trying to bounce back and trying to deal with the disappointment," Hoff said. "But I think I've kind of gotten over it and now I'm ready to do well in this event."

Hoff's time of 2:12.06 was the fourth-best of the morning, trailing American Amanda Beard and two others.

In addition to the premier race of the Olympics -- pitting Phelps against van den Hoogenband and Thorpe -- tonight's events will feature Americans Natalie Coughlin and Aaron Peirsol, favorites in the women's and men's 100 backstroke finals, respectively.

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