15-Year-Old Makes US Swim Team
Sunday, August 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) â€” With Tom Malchow leading the way, 15-year-old Michael Phelps became the youngest male swimmer in 68 years to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team Saturday night.
Malchow was on pace to break his own world record in the 200-meter butterfly before fading badly in the final 50 meters. He still got on the Olympic team with a winning time of 1 minute, 56.87 seconds â€” 1.69 off the mark he set June 17 in Charlotte, N.C.
``I got my ticket to Sydney,'' Malchow said. ``Now, the battle begins. If I didn't make the team, that might have been my career.''
Closing fast, Phelps touched at 1:57.48 to earn the second Olympic berth. He becomes the youngest member of the men's team since 13-year-old Ralph Flanagan, who competed in the 1932 Los Angeles Games.
``Phelps is awesome,'' said Malchow, 23, of Ann Arbor, Mich. ``I might have retired a little sooner with someone like that coming up. He didn't get caught up in the hype, which is a credit to him. He stuck to his game plan.''
Phelps, a native of Baltimore who turned 15 on June 30, actually made the team with ease, cruising away from Jeff Somensatto (1:58.07).
``He doesn't know what it means to go to the Olympics and how it's going to change his life,'' said Malchow, a silver medalist and youngest man on the American team in 1996. ``He's going to find out soon.''
Like most teen-agers, Phelps enjoys listening to music, playing video games and hanging out with friends. News conferences are not a normal part of his routine â€” he seemed overwhelmed at the first one of his life.
``I thought I saw second next to my name,'' he said. ``I wasn't sure, so I had to take my goggles off to check it out.''
Cristina Teuscher of New York, who won gold in the Atlanta Games on a relay, dominated the women's 200 individual medley, reaching the finish in 2:13.36 to beat runner-up Gabrielle Rose (2:14.95) by nearly two seconds.
Rose made her second straight Olympic team â€” with two different countries. She represented Brazil in 1996 but is now an American citizen living in Memphis, Tenn.
Lindsay Benko of Los Angeles captured the night's other final, the women's 200 freestyle. She swam 2:00.45 to edge Rada Owen of Chesterfield, Va., who claimed the second spot at 2:00.54 over a fading Samantha Arsenault of Peabody, Mass.
``It wasn't my best time, but I got my hand on the wall first,'' the 23-year-old Benko said. ``I wish everybody could feel what I'm feeling now. I've been swimming for 17 years and I couldn't imagine what my life would be like without it.''
Arsenault, who had the fastest time Friday in both the preliminaries and semifinals, had her slowest time (2:00.79) of those three races. She will still go to Sydney for the relay.
Malchow's trip to the Olympics seemed a formality; the sellout crowd at the Indiana University Natatorium wanted a world record. Malchow was nearly a half-second under the pace as he made the final turn, but he couldn't sustain it.
``Everybody was expecting to see a world record. I was trying to provide one, but I got a little too caught up in it,'' he said. ``At times, it's a lot hanging on my head. I put myself in position where a lot was expected of me.''
The Phelps family, meanwhile, is used to accomplishing big things at a young age. Sister Whitney was only 14 when she made the American team for the 1994 world championships. Two years later, she failed to qualify for the Olympic team.
This time, Whitney is on hand to cheer for her brother, who has grown 4 inches since January to 6-3. She was one of the first people to hug Phelps after he left the water.
Free spirit Gary Hall Jr. displayed the form that won two silver medals in the 1996 Games. Since then, his life has been in turmoil â€” a suspension after testing positive for marijuana, then learning in March 1999 that he has diabetes.
``It's constantly in the back of my mind,'' said Hall, who has to give himself up to eight insulin injections a day. ``But it's also a motivating factor. I want to stay in shape and try to avoid any complications''
Hall, of Phoenix, was second-fastest in both the preliminaries and semifinals of the 100 freestyle, with a time of 48.92 Saturday night. Neil Walker of Austin, Texas goes into the eight-man final Sunday as the top qualifier, 48.55.
``Gary was fantastic,'' said Sabir Muhammad of Atlanta, who qualified eighth in his bid to become the first black to make a U.S. swim team. ``It's good to see he's back swimming fast.''
Hall's training has been hampered by his disease. He didn't even have a trials qualifying time until a month ago.
``It gives me a taste of mortality,'' he said. ``It's kind of difficult when I stand on the (starting) block. I like to have that feeling of invincibility.''
Hall, who plays guitar, restores old minibuses, listens to the Grateful Dead, and loves to challenge the swimming establishment, finished second to Russia's Alexander Popov in both the 50 and 100 freestyle in the 1996 Games.
In May 1998, Hall was suspended by the FINA, the world's governing body, following a positive marijuana test. Ten months later, he received even worse news.
``Everybody goes through changes. Everybody has to face challenges,'' he said. ``I had to accept my health or fold. Well, I was never one to fold before. I don't plan to start now.''
Misty Hyman of Phoenix was the fastest qualifier in the semifinals of the women's 200 butterfly at 2:11.16. Ed Moses of Burke, Va., moved on to the Sunday finals of the 200 breaststroke after leading the semis at 2:13.13, a trials record.