In late June, Australia's former Olympic swimming coach insisted
that 18-year-old Baltimore phenom Michael Phelps had accomplished
"nothing in the world" when measured against five-time Olympic
medalist Ian Thorpe. "People trying to say [Phelps] is a greater
swimmer than Ian--absolute nonsense," said Don Talbot. "The
promise with Phelps is there, but for people saying he's going to
outdo Thorpie, I live to see that day."
That day came sooner than Talbot expected. Last week at the world
championships in Barcelona, Phelps became the first swimmer in
history to break world records in two individual events on the
same day--smashing the 100-meter butterfly and 200 individual
medley marks on Friday--and the first to break five world records
at a world championship. He also became just the third swimmer
(after Mark Spitz and Germany's Michael Gross) to simultaneously
hold world marks in four individual Olympic events (the 100 and
200 butterfly and the 200 and 400 IM).
Give an assist to his coach, Bob Bowman. He knows locker room
fodder when he reads it, and he promptly slipped a story
containing Talbot's quotes into Phelps's mailbox at the Maryland
aquatic center where the recent high school graduate trains. "It
definitely lit a fire under my butt," Phelps said last week in
Barcelona, where he won six medals, four of them gold. (He lost
one of his world marks on Saturday, when teammate Ian Crocker
eclipsed the 100 fly record.)
In their first head-to-head matchup in a world or Olympic final,
Phelps soundly defeated Thorpe by nearly two body lengths in the
200 individual medley, lowering his own world record by 1.48
seconds, to 1:56.04. Only 46 minutes earlier Phelps had won his
100 butterfly semifinal in 51.47, erasing the world record that
Andrii Serdinov of Ukraine had set in the previous semifinal.
Astoundingly, Phelps's time at the 50-meter turn, 25.11 seconds,
was the slowest of all 16 semifinalists. His back half, 26.36,
was faster than his usual freestyle split.
The next day Phelps swam an even faster time, 51.10, in the 100
fly final, only to finish second to Crocker's 50.98. The
runner-up made no attempt to hide his disappointment. "Yeah, I
hate losing," said Phelps, who finished fifth in his only event,
the 200 butterfly, at the Sydney Games. "I'm sure as I think
about the [Athens] Olympics, it'll fire me up all winter."