Phelps Does It Again

Wednesday, March 28th 2007, 7:46 am
By: News On 6

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ Michael Phelps' plan of zooming to the lead and leaving everyone in his wake is working perfectly.

The American earned his third gold medal with another world record at the world swimming championships Wednesday night.

Phelps lowered his standard in the 200-meter butterfly, winning with the same get-out-fast and blow 'em away strategy he used in taking the 200 freestyle a night earlier.

``I feel like a 12-year-old, being able to drop more than a second off my best time,'' the 21-year-old superstar said. ``I'm showing I'm in solid shape now.''

Laure Manaudou of France followed Phelps' race with a world record of her own, winning the 200 freestyle for her second individual gold.

The United States owns a leading 14 medals halfway through the eight-day meet, including eight golds. Australia has eight medals and three golds.

For the second straight night, Phelps raced to the lead in the 200 fly and stayed there, touching in 1 minute, 52.09 seconds. That was faster than the 1:53.71 he swam at a meet in Columbia, Mo., on Feb. 17.

``I shocked myself,'' Phelps said. ``I didn't know I would be that far under it.''

Phelps simply crushed his rivals, beating silver medalist Wu Peng of China by 3.04 seconds. Phelps already owned the seven fastest times in history in the event.

He was under world-record pace the entire race, and extended his lead at every turn.

At 100 meters, he dipped 1.65 seconds under his mark and stretched it to an amazing 1.78 seconds through 150 meters as fans in Rod Laver Arena cheered louder and louder.

Phelps was going so fast, the red line that tracks world record pace was actually behind him. He cruised home nearly two body lengths and a world away from Wu, who finished in 1:55.13 for China's first medal of the meet.

``He is simply way too fast, way too fast,'' Wu said through a translator. ``I couldn't see him.''

Nikolay Skvortsov of Russia took the bronze.

Phelps hit the wall, turned around and raised both index fingers in the air, signaling his two world records so far.

``I had a world record in mind after breaking it in Missouri. That was my goal tonight,'' he said. ``I wanted to do what I did last night _ take it out.''

Phelps is 3-for-3, with victories in the 400 freestyle relay, the 200 free and 200 fly. He set a world record in defeating Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands by 2 1/2 seconds in the 200 free Tuesday.

After that effort, Phelps came into his latest final exhausted, his arms still tired from the night before.

``I felt horrible. I felt horrible in the warmup pool,'' he said. ``But it looks like things are rolling in the right direction.''

Indeed, Phelps remains on track to win eight golds.

Still left are the 100 fly, the 200 and 400 individual medleys _ he holds the world record in both _ and two more relays that are strong possibilities for U.S. gold.

``Incredible,'' teammate Katie Hoff said. ``He's just really at his prime right now.''

Phelps returned later for the 200 IM semifinals and did just enough to be the leading qualifier for Thursday's final. He finished in 1:57.94. Teammate Ryan Lochte was second quickest in 1:48.58.

Manaudou won the 200 free in a world-record 1:55.52. She was under record pace the entire way and touched the wall almost a second under the old mark.

That record of 1:56.47 was barely 24 hours old, having been set by Federica Pellegrini of Italy in the semifinals Tuesday. The Italian earned the bronze in 1:56.97.

Annika Lurz of Germany took the silver in 1:55.68.

Hoff finished fourth and U.S. teammate Dana Vollmer was sixth.

Manaudou earned another gold to go with her victory in the 400 free.

``Today was a bit of a surprise,'' she said. ``I'm much better in the 400. But the 200 probably helps my 400.''

Australian Grant Hackett's grip on the 800 free ended with a seventh-place finish by the two-time defending champion _ 16 seconds slower than his world record.

Ous Mellouli of Tunisia earned his country's first gold medal at the world championships, winning in 7:46.95.

``It's great,'' he said. ``I'm just really happy to be here and racing fast.''

Mellouli is a University of Southern California student who earned the silver in the 400 free, again beating Hackett, who settled for the bronze. Mellouli's family traveled from Tunisia to Melbourne to cheer him on, and he stopped along his victory walk for a group hug with them.

Hackett had been downplaying his chances because of disruptions in his training leading up to the meet. He has one more chance for gold in the 1,500 free, where he'll seek a record fifth world title.

``It was tough for me tonight, and it's going to be even tougher in the 1,500,'' Hackett said. ``The fitness is not quite there.''

Przemyslaw Stanczyk of Poland took the silver. Aussie Craig Stevens was third.

Before Phelps got in the water for the first of two swims, American Leila Vaziri set the first world record of the night in the semifinals of the 50 backstroke _ a non-Olympic event.

The 21-year-old Indiana University student swam a meet record of 28.25 seconds in the morning preliminaries, then went even faster in the semifinals, leading all the way.

Vaziri's time of 28.16 seconds erased the mark of 28.19 set by Janine Pietsch in May 2005 at Berlin. The German swam in the lane next to Vaziri in their semifinal, and was the fifth-fastest qualifier for Thursday night's final.

``I definitely had in my mind to go that time,'' said Vaziri, a world championships rookie. ``You just want to break the world record so bad. It's been awesome.''

Oleg Lisogor of Ukraine won the men's 50 breaststroke, another event that is not in the Olympics. At 29, he was the oldest swimmer in the race and finished in 27.66 seconds, beating out American Brendan Hansen by 0.03 seconds.

Hansen took the silver in 27.69. Cameron Van Der Burgh of South Africa earned the bronze. Japan's Kosuke Kitajima was fifth.