16-YEAR-OLD Michael Phelps emerges as America's new swim sensation

Tuesday, July 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FUKUOKA, Japan (AP) _ Teen-ager Michael Phelps of Baltimore has broken the 200-meter butterfly world record twice in four months and won his first world title.

First to acknowledge the 16-year-old's latest achievement was American teammate Tom Malchow, the former world record-holder, who hoisted the youngster's arm into the air after their duel Tuesday night at the World Swimming Championships.

Phelps had just shaved 0.34 seconds off his world record, set in March, and beaten Olympic champion Malchow by 0.70 seconds in the 200 butterfly final.

``I'd like to be where Michael is right now,'' Malchow said. ``I'll just have to strive to try to keep up with him. I swam a good race tonight but he was better.''

Asked if he thought he was widening the gap between himself and some of the more established swimmers, Phelps hedged.

``Maybe that's the case, but I just want to keep improving and getting faster and faster,'' he said. ``I was a little disappointed with last night's race and just tried to get my hand on the wall first tonight.''

On Monday, Phelps finished in 1 minute, 56.41 seconds, in the semifinals, behind Malchow and France's Franck Esposito, and well off the world mark of 1:54.92 he set at the U.S. trials in Austin, Texas.

In Tuesday's final, Phelps charged out fast enough to be 0.83 seconds under the old world record pace when he took the first turn at 50 meters.

He won at 1:54.58, with Malchow taking the silver at 1:55.28 _ .1 second slower than his best time.

Phelps, who turned 16 June 30, was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic swim team in Sydney last year. Although he didn't win a medal, he said the trip have him valuable big meet experience.

The 200 butterfly was Phelps' only individual race in these championships, but he could be called on for two relays _ the 800 freestyle and 400 medley.

Before the 2004 Olympics, he is interested in perfecting some of the other strokes.

``I think the 200 is just going to get faster and faster and I may want to start focusing on some other events,'' he said.