LONG BEACH, Calif. - Nine gold medals?
Nothing may be out of reach for 19-year-old Michael Phelps of North Baltimore, Md., after he got the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials finals off to a flying start on Wednesday when he broke his own world record in the 400-meter individual medley.
Phelps finished in four minutes, 8.41 seconds to break his record of 4:09.09 that he set last year.
Phelps still has five more individual events to go at the trials. If everything goes well, Phelps could qualify for the Olympics in six individual events and three relays - meaning he could conceivably have a shot at nine gold medals next month in Athens. That would eclipse the seven gold medals that Mark Spitz won in 1972.
"Anything's possible," Phelps said. "I'm somebody who's going to keep my mind open."
But Phelps also isn't going to become carried away.
"I think we have to take it one step at a time," he said.
The first step was making the Olympic team, which Phelps did in style on Wednesday.
"It's a relief," I will say," Phelps said. "They Olympic Trials are probably more stressful than the Olympic Games themselves."
One would think that with so many events, Phelps would pace himself, which he seemed to give an indication he would do when he cruised to a win in his preliminary in 4:16.11. But Phelps said he wanted to make a statement.
"It's always a goal of mine to swim a fast time," he said. "I'm looking forward to that race going into the Olympics.
"I wanted to go into the Olympics with the fastest time in the world. In a race it's kind of hard to hold something back."
Fittingly before his world record race, Phelps was listening to Eminem's "Till I Collapse." He was ahead of his world record pace after the second leg - the backstroke - 1:57.85-1:58.22.
When he stayed ahead of his world record pace going into the last freestyle leg - 3:10.75-3:10.98 - in his weakest leg - the breaststroke - there was really no question that he would break the world record. "I'm very happy with the way I swam," Phelps said.
USC's Erik Vendt took second to secure the other Olympic qualifying spot with a time of 4:14.04.
Phelps wasn't the only swimmer to make a statement. Two other swimmers set American records. Klete Keller won the 400 free in an American record of 3:44.19 and Lars Jensen took second in 3:46.56.
In the 100 breaststroke semifinals, Brendan Hansen set an American record of 1:00.13. In the women's 400 I.M. final, Katie Hoff also of North Baltimore, won in a meet record of 4:37.67. She just missed the American record of 4:37.58. Kaitlin Sandeno took second in 4:40.39.
Contact Charles Whisnand at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1214.