INDIANAPOLIS, July 9 — There has been one swimmer, and only one, who has been able to lord over Michael Phelps, and that’s a sweet old guy from Maine by the name of Ian Crocker. The now-retired Crocker, soft spoken and into his guitar, hated being Phelps’s nemesis, the bad guy.
But that’s exactly what he became by virtue of the fact he could kick Phelps’s rear, quite routinely, in one event, the 100-meter butterfly. Phelps taped Crocker’s picture on his bedroom wall for motivation six years ago, after Crocker set the 100 fly world record.
Crocker had held the record since — until Thursday, that is.
Phelps finally demolished the mark at the U.S. swimming championships by winning the 100 fly final in 50.22 seconds — 0.18 better than the 50.40 that has stood up since Crocker last set the record in 2005.
“It was big,” Phelps, 24, said. “It was something I really, really wanted to accomplish. Crock and I had a lot of great history, a lot of great races. ….. I’ve wanted that record ever since he took it at the 2003 worlds.”
The performance gave Phelps his first world record since the Beijing Olympics and upped his total of individual world records to five (he also holds world marks in the 200 freestyle, 200 fly, 200 individual medley and 400 individual medley). And it proved that he has not only recovered from a long post-Olympic break, but also that he is getting back into the form that helped him win eight golds in Beijing.
“At the Olympics, I was in the best shape of my life,” Phelps said. “To have the preparation I’ve had and do a best time [here] is pretty cool.”
Phelps’s chase may have seemed like an eternity to him, but for five-time Olympian Dara Torres, six years represents just a tiny blip in a career that spans no fewer than 28 U.S. championships. Torres, 42, took another unprecedented step and shook the usual fist at middle age, winning her 16th national title in the 50 free in 24.43 seconds.
“I guess I don’t think about the age thing,” Torres said, “until I get out of the pool and start limping.”
Thursday, in fact, Torres practically limped into the pool. Bothered by an arthritic knee that will require surgery after the world championships, which begin later this month in Rome — and which she qualified for with the victory — Torres got a slow start off the blocks and did not come close to her American record of 24.07.
She did, however, blow away the field over the last half of the sprint. During the race, “the adrenaline goes and you don’t really think about” the pain, Torres said. Amanda Weir finished second in 24.70 and Lara Jackson came in third in 24.71.
“My start was horrible,” Torres said. “I haven’t practiced starts. The one time I practiced my starts, I had to get my knee drained it swelled up so much. ….. It’s a great feeling to be able to go out of here and still race, but that time won’t medal at the world championships.”
Torres has retired after so many Olympic Games — only to return before the next — that she has competed in just one previous world championships, the 1986 event in Madrid. There, she won a silver medal in the 400 freestyle relay.
In Beijing last summer, as Torres finished second in the 50 free and set the current American record, Phelps set — or helped set — world records in seven of his eight events. The only mark he missed came in the 100 fly, a race he nearly lost to Serbia’s Milorad Cavic.
On Thursday, he easily beat Tyler McGill of Auburn University, who finished second in 51.06 and became the sixth-fastest man ever in the event . Backstroke specialist Aaron Peirsol claimed third in 51.30 seconds — making him the 11th-fastest man ever.
Phelps, of course, is now first.
After Crocker beat Phelps by 1.25 seconds in the event at the 2005 world championships in Montreal, Phelps told his coach Bob Bowman he wanted to “put a bag over his head.” Bowman told Phelps, he recalled, that he wanted to do the same.
“In the race Ian broke that record, that was the worst Michael had ever been beaten,” Bowman said. “We both remember that. ….. That is an amazing record. That’s why it stood the test of time.”
Phelps credits his emphasis on speed events since he returned to the pool six months ago for allowing him to approach what had been such an elusive mark. Phelps said he has never trained the 100 fly harder, and he’s also undertaken a far more rigorous weight-training regimen designed to build the upper-body strength he needs in sprint events.
“It’s killed my body,” he said. “There are days I can’t pick anything up.”
Phelps’s previous best in the event was the 50.48 he swam a couple of weeks ago in Montreal.
“Everything I’ve done has been something I’ve wanted to do, and something I’ve dreamed of,” Phelps said. “I would have liked to have gone eight for eight in Beijing, eight records and eight races. It feels good to have this one here.”