-- One could say that Ian Crocker made Michael Phelps look human once again, but Crocker himself barely stayed within the realm of the conceivable Saturday night. Crocker accomplished far more than keeping Phelps off the top of the medal podium in the 100-meter butterfly at the 2005 swimming world championships. Phelps was so far behind Crocker over the last 25 meters that the only question was how fast, exactly, was Crocker going?
Crocker was fast enough to beat Phelps by 1.25 seconds.
He was fast enough to break his own world record by 0.36 of a second.
He was fast enough to earn his second straight world title in the event, a streak of dominance rather notably interrupted by Phelps's victory at last year's Summer Games in Athens.
"He sort of ran away with it," Phelps said. "I wasn't even a factor."
Crocker finished in 50.40 seconds and had time to turn his head and look for his mark by the time Phelps touched the wall in 51.65, short even of his personal best.
"It was definitely my goal to break the world record," Crocker, 22, said. "I didn't know I was going to break it by that much. When you're going against Phelps, you always assume it's going to take a world record to win."
For the first time in these championships, Phelps, 20, could not blame himself for a result that, at least on the surface, looked to be a letdown. Indeed, the result reverberated all the way to Sunday night. Phelps, already denied the freestyle leg in the 400 medley relay final because American Jason Lezak swam faster in the 100 free final last week, was officially boxed out of the butterfly leg by Crocker's stunning showing Saturday.
Phelps still has a chance to add to the four gold medals and one silver he has won here, because he will compete in the medley relay prelims Sunday. But he won't need to stick around for the meet's finale that night.
Sunday "morning will be my last race of the championships," Phelps said. "I definitely would have liked to be swimming faster than I did tonight and I did throughout the championships."
Phelps, a Baltimore native who won golds in the 200 free and 200 individual medley here but failed to medal in the 100 or 400 freestyle, chastised himself once again Friday for his less-than-intense year of preparation leading up to this meet.
"It's not where I want to be right now," said Phelps, whose time came up 0.18 of a second short of his best time, which was good enough for a world record -- until Crocker surpassed it -- when he swam it in 2003. "This year, this world championships, has been a big wake-up call. I don't think the past year has really been a normal year for me. I don't like the feeling of not doing my best times, and that's what has happened here."
But the fact is, Phelps has nipped at Crocker's heels in the 100 fly ever since the 2003 world championships in Barcelona, when Crocker broke Phelps's record in a stunning upset victory. Crocker lowered his record again at last year's Olympic trials in Long Beach, Calif., in July, making it clear he -- not Phelps -- was the man to beat in the event.
Of course, Phelps, who taped a photo of Crocker on his bedroom wall for inspiration after the Barcelona championships, defeated Crocker when most of the world was paying attention last August. That victory gave Phelps his fifth Olympic gold medal. And it left Crocker feeling as if he'd checked off every item on his grocery list, then left all of the bags on the checkout counter.
"The Olympics didn't go quite the way I wanted them to," Crocker said. "The Olympics happens once every four years. . . . I didn't happen to be the best on that day, but I'm working to be the best on all of the other days."
Phelps earned high praise in Athens for magnanimously giving Crocker the spot in the final of the 4x100 individual medley relay he received for winning the 100 fly title. Though Phelps competed in an early round -- and thus did not sacrifice a medal opportunity with the gesture -- Crocker had the fun of participating on the U.S. team that claimed the gold medal and set a world record in the final.
But he didn't get the satisfaction of feeling as if he truly deserved his place on the team. Sunday night, he will have it.
"I definitely felt based on my swim alone . . . I didn't earn that relay," Crocker said. "It is more gratifying to feel like you've earned that spot."
Though Phelps vowed to go back to his training home at the University of Michigan and tighten his workout regimen, Crocker has set the bar high.
"I'm very pleased to be making progress," Crocker said. "Whether I beat Michael or not, it's important to me to go better times."