Pan Pacific Notebook

Peirsol Sets Backstroke Record, Phelps Fades

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 20, 2006

VICTORIA, B.C., Aug. 19 -- It's not every day that Michael Phelps is out of a race at the 100-meter mark, or that he loses by almost two-and-a-half seconds, or that a world record is being pursued and he's not in the hunt.

But not every race is the 200-meter backstroke.

As Phelps struggled to put forth a good showing in an event that is not his specialty, fellow American Aaron Peirsol broke his own world record in his signature race, touching the wall in 1 minute 54.44 seconds with roaring accompaniment from the crowd at the Pan Pacific Championships on Saturday.

Phelps, who had already won three gold medals here and who helped the United States set a world record in the 4x100 relay a little more than 30 minutes later, finished second in 1:56.81 -- more than a second slower than his personal best. Japan's Tomomi Morita was third in 1:58.53.

Peirsol, who also claimed the 100 backstroke title Thursday, owns the seven fastest times in the 200 backstroke in U.S. history. Before Saturday, he had broken the world record in the event three times in the last four years. (His old record was 1:54.66.) And then there is this: He hasn't lost a 200 backstroke race in six years. He wasn't going to start Saturday, even with Phelps next to him. It was Phelps's presence, he said, that pushed him to the record. Peirsol called it "the best swim of my life."

"I'm more of a racer than an individual swimmer," he said. "I relish those moments. . . . I know, no matter what, [Phelps] is going to push me the entire race. It's not every day that I have enough energy to pull away from the guy."

Phelps did not speak to reporters after the loss to Peirsol so he could prepare for the relay. He led off for a team that included Neil Walker, Cullen Jones and Jason Lezak; they finished in 3:12.46 -- crushing the record of 3:13.17 set by South Africa at the 2004 Summer Games.

Hoff Claims Silver

Two teenagers from the region came up just short in the 400-meter freestyle: Katie Hoff of Towson, Md., missed winning her fourth gold medal of this meet by less than four-tenths of a second, and Great Falls' Kate Ziegler missed a bronze medal -- which would have been her second medal here -- by five-hundredths.

Neither teen swam as fast as at the U.S. championships in early August, when both posted times that would have been good enough to earn the gold medal tonight.

Hoff, 17, claimed the silver medal in 4:07.98, just behind Japan's Ai Shibata, who touched the wall in 4:07.61. Japan's Sachiko Yamada finished third in 4:08.42, with Ziegler, 18, barely behind in 4:08.47.

At the U.S. championships in Irvine, Calif., Hoff and Ziegler swam under 4:06, with Ziegler edging Hoff for the title.

"I'm not that happy with it because at nationals I swam almost three seconds faster," Ziegler said.

"That wasn't really a best time," Hoff said. But "I'm glad I pulled out a silver for the U.S."

Hoff also can take consolation in her previous three golds in the 200 freestyle, 400 individual medley and 4x200 relay. And Ziegler already met one of her primary goals here: winning the 1,500 free. Ziegler attributed her slower time to her focus on longer distances in preparing for this meet. On Sunday, she competes in the 800.

"It happens," she said. "You've just got to get back and work hard . . . [but] I definitely would have liked to have won a medal."

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