The stars have been realigned. At a meet where every Tom, Dick and Giuseppe have been setting world records,
Of the 22 world records set over four days in Rome, this one was perhaps the least surprising. It was a commanding statement of a race in which Phelps led from dive to touch. He had the fastest split time at every wall and was never seriously challenged. Poland's
The victory came just 24 hours after the disappointment of his silver-medal finish in the 200 free. After that race, Phelps went back to his hotel, traded text messages with friends for an hour and then got his first good night of sleep since his arrival in Rome 10 days ago. One friend's supportive text message read:
But Phelps has always been the type who responds better to butt kicking from defeats than back patting from friends. He told coach
To be fair, this is the one race in which Phelps really doesn't have any peers. He can afford to take a tactical gamble and recover to win even if the strategy starts to backfire. "You can always tell when something big is going to happen by looking at him," Bowman said. "He was ready tonight. If he was ahead on that last wall coming back, nobody was going to get past him."
Phelps' reaction time off the blocks, .63 seconds, was the fastest of the eight finalists. Phelps used to be a horrible starter who was also very poor on the turns, but now is often first or second off the blocks and usually makes up ground or extends his lead pushing off the wall. His first three splits in Rome (24.76, 28.12 and 29.05) were aggressive. He seemed to take an extra long glide off the third wall in order to set himself for the final lap. After he finished, Phelps spotted his mother and sister in the stands, held up one finger and patted the water.
The victory gave Phelps a record total of 23 medals, including 19 golds, at the five world championships he has attended. He has not lost a 200 fly race since 2001, when he finished second to Olympic champ
At a meet that has been dominated by talk of fast swimsuits as much as fast times, it seemed Phelps was making a statement by not wearing a full body suit. In fact, Phelps doesn't like to wear full body suits during butterfly events because he feels the suit constricts his shoulders. He wore one at the U.S. nationals last month in Indianapolis and had planned to do so again on Wednesday, but accidentally picked up the wrong suit from his hotel on the way to the pool. Instead of a suit he had broken in back home, he threw a brand new one into his bag which fit too snuggly around the shoulders. "I brought the legs along for back-up and just decided to throw them on," he said. "I wasn't making a statement [by not wearing a bodysuit]."
Next up for Phelps are two relays (the 4x200 free on Friday and the 4x100 medley on Sunday) and the anticipated rematch with Serbia's
Even if he is, Phelps has already proven he can periodically call on reserves to overcome the six-month post-Olympic training layoff that seemed to affect him on Tuesday. "His shape is as good as it's going to be right now," Bowman said. "Michael can get a lot out of a little bit of training because the training he does is really good. And you saw tonight he knows how to race."