Michael Phelps has always been a little obsessed with numbers,to the point where they sometimes pop up in his dreams. But over the last four years,no number has rattled around inside his head more than 50.40. It represented the world record time in the 100-metre butterfly.
It belonged,though,to American Ian Crocker,who set that mark in 2005 in a race where he beat Phelps by more than a full second. The memory of that race still makes Phelps furious,and Crockers record,until Thursday night,remained out of his reach for four long years,almost taunting him.
But with a determined and focused swim inside the Indiana University Natatorium,Phelps finally got it back,touching the wall in a stunning 50.22 seconds. It was the highlight of another exciting night at US nationals.
When Phelps touched the wall,he turn to the scoreboard,whipped off his goggles,yanked off his two swim caps,and shook the water from his face and glared up at his time,almost in anger. It took him a good 15 seconds before he smiled,but the look on his face revealed an unmistakable truth: He expected to grab this record. And now he finally had.
Eye on the prize
This is something that I really,really wanted to accomplish, Phelps said. Crock and I had a lot of great history,a lot of great races with one another. Ive wanted that record ever since he took it in 03 worlds. After the race,you could tell I was pretty fired up and excited.
Phelps now owns five individual world records: the 100 butterfly,the 200 butterfly,the 200 freestyle,the 200 individual medley and the 400 individual medley. No other person in the world,man or woman,has more than two. He was also a member of three American relay teams that hold world records.
Everything Ive done is something Ive wanted to do and something Ive dreamed of, Phelps said. I will say,I would have liked to have gone eight-for-eight in Beijing,but it feels good to have that one. Looking back at some of the things Ive done,its just been incredible.
Phelps made it a point to pay tribute to Crocker several times after the race. For years,their duels were some of the most exciting in swimming. A movie,Unfiltered,was even made about their rivalry. In 2003 at the World Championships in Barcelona,Spain,Phelps grabbed the world record in the 100-meter butterfly for the first time (51.47) in the semi-finals,but Crocker took it away the next night (50.98). Two years later at the 2005 World Championships in Montreal,Crocker handed Phelps the worst defeat of his career,going 50.40 while Phelps went 51.65.
Crocker,who retired after the Beijing Olympics,sent Phelps a text message recently wishing him luck and telling his old rival he wanted him to break the record. That meant a lot from a competitor,a friend and a classy guy, Phelps said.
He and I had amazing battles back and forth,and those are something Ill definitely miss. (LATWP)