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U.S. Swimmers Far Ahead of Competition

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ Led by Michael Phelps' seven gold medals, the United States dominated the world swimming championships. The Americans won a leading 36 medals, including 20 golds _ equaling their best showing in 29 years.

If the world's other swimmers want to catch up, they've got some work to do before next year's Beijing Games, especially the Chinese.

``We haven't seen anything from China yet,'' said Jon Urbanchek, special assistant to U.S. men's head coach Bob Bowman. ``Hopefully, they're not keeping anyone to surprise us.''

As the host country in 2008, the Chinese will be eager to top the medal count, and swimming offers a huge cache of gold, silver and bronze.

But they can't be very encouraged by their showing in Melbourne.

For the first time in recent years, China brought a full team of more than 40 swimmers to a major international competition. The Chinese were represented in 13 of the 40 finals, and won two medals.

``There's a big difference between us and the others,'' freestyler Yang Yu said. ``Our gap is very big. They all swam very fast, and it felt like we were moving in the same spot.''

Next year in Beijing, the Olympic finals will be held in the morning to appease NBC, which will televise them live in U.S. prime time.

That could be a problem for at least one Chinese swimmer.

``I feel tired racing in the morning,'' freestyler Pang Jiaying said. ``I would swim a lot better if I swam at night.''

Wu Peng earned the silver behind Phelps in the 200-meter butterfly. The Chinese women took the bronze in the 400 medley relay.

``When you have the rest of the world improving so quickly, it can make us look like we haven't got any improvements when we maintain our standards,'' breaststroker Qui Hi said.

She said China's coaches tried something new before worlds by having the swimmers train at altitude.

``The whole experiment didn't work,'' she said.

Qui wants a different approach leading up to Beijing.

``I really hope that someone could come and work with us and train us up to improve our physiques, styles and psychology,'' said. ``I don't want any new experiments but rather a thorough preparation.''

No one was more prepared than Phelps, whose seven-gold haul was worth $210,000 in bonus money from USA Swimming. He picked up extra cash from FINA, the sport's governing body, too.

American swimmers accounted for 12 of 15 records set over eight days in the temporary pool at Rod Laver Arena. Five of those belonged to Phelps.

``That was the greatest performance of all time,'' U.S. head coach Mark Schubert said.

Phelps never got a chance to swim for an eighth gold after his U.S. teammates were disqualified in the 400 medley relay preliminaries on the final day.

Ian Crocker, who had been in position to derail Phelps in the 100 fly before losing, dove in too early on an exchange, causing the DQ.

``It definitely wasn't intentional,'' Phelps said. ``Everything can't go perfect.''

Things nearly did for Australian Libby Lenton, who was the most successful female swimmer with five golds in six races. The Aussies finished second behind the U.S. with 21 medals and nine golds.

``This has given us a perfect launch pad,'' Aussie Brenton Rickard said. ``Hopefully we can keep this momentum all the way to Beijing.''

Lenton's teammate, Leisel Jones, swept the 100 and 200 breaststroke titles on her way to three golds. American teenager Katie Hoff won three golds, including both individual medleys.

Laure Manaudou of France was named the meet's top female swimmer for winning the 200 and 400 freestyles. She earned three other medals, too.

American Ryan Lochte claimed two golds and three silvers. He set a world record in upsetting teammate Aaron Peirsol in the 200 back.

Besides China, some of the biggest busts were Aussie Grant Hackett, German Britta Steffen and South Africans Roland Schoeman and Ryk Neethling.

Hackett warned everyone going into the meet that his training had been disrupted by a coaching switch and his impending wedding. He struggled to a bronze in the 800 free and a pair of seventh-place finishes, including the 1,500 free, which he had won four straight times.

``Nothing went according to plan,'' Hackett said.

Steffen, who emerged as a world record holder at last year's European championships, came away with a silver and a bronze in five races.

Schoeman boasted that he had never been fitter and more prepared, but managed only two seventh-place finishes to go with a gold in the 50 butterfly, a non-Olympic event.

He and Neethling were part of the South African 400 free relay that finished fourth. Like Schoeman, Neethling wasn't a factor in the 100 free, ending up last.
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