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Phelps Ahead Of Schedule
Donna de Varona, Pablo Morales, Don Schollander, Mark Spitz.... The list of swimming greats introduced at the 39th Santa Clara International Meet last Friday went on and on. Thirty-two of the 46 Santa Clara Swim Club members who had become Olympians had returned to George F. Haines International Swim Center for a tribute to Haines, the club's founder who died on May 1 at the age of 82.
"It's ridiculous how many stars George Haines turned out," said freestyler Klete Keller, a two-time Olympian who watched the ceremony. "I don't think it will ever be done again."
The days of a club's winning more golds at an Olympics than every nation but one (as Santa Clara did in 1964 in Tokyo, where they won 13) may be over. But if the performances in Santa Clara were an indication, the U.S. will have no shortage of swimming stars in 2008 in Beijing.
Last Friday, Keller's Club Wolverine teammate Michael Phelps, the winner of six gold and two bronze medals at the 2004 Athens Games, won the 400 individual medley in 4:11.40, crushing his two-year-old meet record of 4:14.98 and giving him the fastest time in the world this year. "When I heard the announcer say four-eleven, I was shocked," says Phelps. Fellow Athens gold medalist Natalie Coughlin was also in good form. She set four meet records in two days, thrashing the field in the 100 free with a time of 54.06, just .07 off her U.S. record.
Phelps's performance--on Saturday he won the 200 back in a swift time of 1:57.23 and set a meet record of 52.20 in the 100 butterfly--was a contrast to last summer's world championships, at which he failed to qualify for the 400-free final and finished seventh in the 100 free. "Last year was a transitional year," says his coach, Bob Bowman. "Michael was trying to get over Athens and build toward something else. He's now in the kind of shape where he can think about swimming faster than he ever has--and he can go a lot faster."
Phelps can attribute his current speed and conditioning in part to something Haines's Santa Clara swimmers took for granted: training against great competition every day. Phelps joined Club Wolverine, a private team that trains at the University of Michigan, after Athens. There he swims alongside fellow Olympians Keller, Peter Vanderkaay and Erik Vendt. "Every day [we're] going at it in practice," says Phelps. "If you're not on, you're going to get rocked."