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World records falling at this U.S. Olympic trials

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LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- Two days, two world records.
In a striking contrast to four years ago, the U.S. Olympic
swimming trials have quickly become an assault on the record book,
boding well for America's hopes at the Athens Games just a little
more than a month away.
"The records keep falling because people are setting goals and
working toward them," said Bob Bowman, who coaches super-swimmer
Michael Phelps. "They mean a lot because they let you know you're
on top of your game."
Phelps got things rolling on the opening day of the trials by
breaking his own world mark in the 400-meter individual medley.
That wasn't too surprising, but the same couldn't be said of
Brendan Hansen.
On Thursday, he turned in a stunning performance in the 100
breaststroke, becoming the first American to break the 1-minute
barrier and beating the record set by Japan's Kosuke Kitajima at
last year's world championships.
The 2000 trials -- held at a permanent, indoor natatorium in
Indianapolis -- produced no world records. While troubling at the
time, the Americans bounced back to dominate the pool in Sydney,
capturing 14 golds and 33 medals overall.
This year, the U.S. team is being determined at a portable pool
set up along the California waterfront, not far from the Queen
Mary. Temporary but picturesque, the facility seems to be producing
an even more formidable squad for these Olympics.
"You can't coast through the trials," said Tom Malchow, who
has been supplanted by Phelps as America's dominant butterfly
swimmer. "Even if you're the favorite in an event, you've got
someone right on your heels."
Malchow isn't the only stalwart of the American swim program who
has come under siege from a talented group of newcomers.
Ed Moses won a silver medal in the 100 breaststroke at Sydney,
but he failed to make the team this time. While Hansen was swimming
to a world record, Moses labored nearly three seconds behind in
sixth.
The women's 400 freestyle produced the same heartbreak for
Brooke Bennett and Diana Munz, who went 1-2 in that event at the
2000 Games. They won't get a chance to repeat their gold-silver
performance in Athens, left in the wake of Kaitlin Sandeno and
Kalyn Keller.
"The level of competition is a lot better," Malchow said
Friday, not long after edging Phelps for the best time in the 200
butterfly preliminaries. "You can't take it easy at all. That's a
sign that everyone is getting better. That's a good sign for U.S.
swimming."
No one is sending off more good vibes than Phelps, who got
started on his busiest day yet with a comfortable swim in the
prelims. His time of 1 minute, 58.07 seconds was just behind
Malchow's 1:57.93.
Phelps was set to return in the evening for two more races just
40 minutes apart: the butterfly semifinals and 200 freestyle final.
"I'm pretty interested to see how it goes," Bowman said.
"He's going to get quite a challenge in both races. We'll see what
he's made of."
In other morning prelims, 16-year-old Dana Vollmer was the
fastest qualifier in the 200 freestyle at 2:00.24. Lindsay Benko,
the American record-holder, was second in 2:00.59.
Also, Katie Hoff, the 15-year-old from the same Baltimore club
as Phelps, was the top qualifier in the 200 individual medley at
2:16.69. She already made the team in the 400 IM.
More records appeared vulnerable on an evening that featured
four finals. In addition to Phelps swimming the 200 free, women's
star Natalie Coughlin was favored in the 100 backstroke, an event
in which she already held the world's best time.
The men's 100 backstroke had a stellar field, including world
record-holder Lenny Krayzelburg and Aaron Peirsol, who had the
second-fastest time ever. The friendly rivals finished 1-2 in
Sydney -- and don't forget Jeff Rouse, the 1992 gold medalist coming
back after a six-year retirement.
The women's 100 breaststroke was loaded, too. Former Olympians
Amanda Beard, Megan Quann, Staciana Stitts and Kristy Kowal, along
with four-time NCAA champion Tara Kirk, were fighting for only two
spots.
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