MELBOURNE, Australia - Michael Phelps stands on the deck, glaring at the lane in front of him with a look that would make Mike Tyson cringe. He soaks up the hip-hop on his headphones. Then he unzips his suit, climbs atop the starting blocks, leans over and flaps his arms furiously.
It never changes. Not ever.
The routine is the same every time, and who can argue with the results?
Phelps is the ultimate in monotony, both in routine and outcome. He went to the blocks at worlds with the same song on his iPod (Young Jeezy's "Go Getta"), his mind roiling with thoughts of best times and split performances. When it was done, he had seven gold medals in seven races - five of them in world-record time.
"That," said U.S. coach Mark Schubert, "was the greatest performance of all time."
Phelps is poised to be the biggest star at the Beijing Olympics, which is actually the role he claimed at the last games in Athens. He's an athlete of remarkable talent, poise and focus, improving since he fell just short - six golds and two bronzes - of Mark Spitz's iconic record at the 1972 Munich Games.
Everyone else is just along for the ride.
"What you witnessed here is unprecedented in the sport," Schubert said. "It's really fun to watch. But I really think he's going to get better. That's the amazing part of all this."
On Sunday night, Phelps smashed his own world record in the 400-meter individual medley by 2.04 seconds, breaking his fifth world record and becoming the most successful swimmer in world championships history.
The 21-year-old American joined countryman Spitz as the only swimmers to win seven golds at a major international meet. Of course, Spitz's achievement came on the sport's grandest stage - the Olympics.
Phelps will have to wait until next year. He hopes to equal or go one better at next year's Beijing Games, where he doesn't seem the least bit concerned about the switch to morning finals. If you can't get up for the Olympics, he keeps saying, there's no need to go swimming. Phelps' hopes of winning eight golds in Melbourne ended with a shocking disqualification in the 400 medley relay, though it was no fault of his own.
The Americans were eliminated in the morning relay when Ian Crocker jumped in too early on an exchange. Phelps was resting, planning to swim in the evening. He never got the chance.
"It definitely wasn't intentional," Phelps said. "Everything can't go perfect. It's all about how you adapt from those things and learn from experiences, learn from mistakes. I think he'll battle back from that."
He's learned to battle back, slumping by his standards after the Athens Olympics. He pleaded guilty to drunken driving, competed without proper training, tried new events and wound up finishing with "only" six medals in Montreal two years ago. Having put in the training, Katie Hoff won three golds in four races for the Americans. Laure Manaudou set herself up for a big Olympics, winning two golds and five medals in six races.
Buoyed by Phelps' historic performance, the Americans won a leading 36 medals, including 20 golds - both figures equaling their record haul at the 1978 worlds in Berlin. Australia was second with 21 medals and nine golds, including five by Libby Lenton.
Phelps and Hoff both set world records on the final night. In all, American swimmers accounted for 12 of 15 marks broken over eight days in the temporary pool at Rod Laver Arena.
, which was being drained just a few hours after the meet ended. The water-conscious Aussies set up a complex series of tubes to drain the water to a nearby park. Phelps closed his eight-day run in style, winning the 400 IM in 4:06.22 - easily improving his old standard of 4:08.26 set at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
"Being a second or more under my best time in a few events is sort of something that shocked me a little bit," he said.
Ryan Lochte took the silver - 3.52 seconds behind his teammate - for his fifth medal of the meet. He just couldn't keep up with Phelps. No one else could, either, "My legs are shot," Lochte said. A Polish swimmer staged the final night's biggest upset in the grueling 1,500 freestyle, where Aussie Grant Hackett's run of four consecutive titles ended. Mateusz Sawrymowicz won the gold medal in 14:45.94 against the fastest field in history. He perched on the lane rope and waved his arms, urging the Aussie crowd to cheer him. "It's great to beat Hackett," he said. Without the heavily favored United States in the medley relay, it was a wide-open race that had the screaming crowd on its feet. Australians Matt Welsh, Brenton Rickard, Andrew Lauterstein and Eamon Sullivan outtouched Japan by 0.23 seconds for the gold. "Everything can't go perfect," Phelps said. "It's about how you adapt from those things and learn from experiences, learn from mistakes. I think he'll battle back from that."comments powered by Disqus