ROME, July 27 — The experiment is over for Michael Phelps.
He officially ditched the straight-armed freestyle stroke that was part of his summer foray into sprint-distance races, making the decision immediately after the 4×100-meter freestyle relay final Sunday night at the swimming world championships.
Phelps, who easily advanced in the Monday morning heats of the 200 freestyle, had failed this summer to improve on his personal best in the event and never got comfortable with the new stroke. In Sunday’s race, the U.S. team pulled out a surprise gold medal but Phelps was “disappointed” in his swim, which left the U.S. team in third place after the first leg.
“It’s done,” he said Monday. “We tried something and it didn’t work. We weren’t 100 percent comfortable with it. It’s back to the old stroke.”
The straight-armed freestyle, which requires swimmers to keep their arms virtually straight to give them more power over short distances, has been increasingly popular among sprinters lately. Many of the top French swimmers, including Fred Bousquet use it, and Cullen Jones, the American record holder in the 50 freestyle, has recently adopted the stroke.
Phelps used the stroke, but only sporadically. He seemed unable to find a rhythm with it. And furthermore, perhaps owing to the juggling of old and new, he said, his old stroke “was kind of off,” but he felt better during Monday morning’s 200 qualfying heat.
“He’s not really [been] doing the new stroke, he’s not really doing the old stroke,” his coach Bob Bowman said.
On Monday morning, Phelps posted the second-fastest qualifying time behind German Paul Biedermann, who finished in 1 minute, 45.30 seconds. On Sunday night, Biedermann broke Ian Thorpe’s world record in the 400 freestyle. Phelps touched the wall in 1:45.60, then reflected on Sunday’s achievement by Biedermann, who is now Phelps’s top rival in the 200 free.
“I still don’t believe the 400 record was broken,” Phelps said. “I thought that was the best record in the books. People are swimming pretty fast.”
Biedermann openly acknowledged after the race that he thought his Arena X-Glide speedsuit gave him an extra two seconds in the race, helping him break the world record. Unlike Biedermann, Phelps is wearing the fast suit of 2008 — the Speedo LZR — which some believe puts him at a disadvantage against the fastest suits of 2009.
American David Walters also qualified for the night’s semifinals with his finish in 1:47.15, 15th overall.
Pelton Posts Personal Best
After watching the six world records set on the opening day of the world championships Sunday, Towson’s Elizabeth Pelton, 15, got nervous.
She realized merely making it to the semifinals in her three backstroke events would be a major challenge.
Instead of going to bed early the night before her world championship debut in the 100 backstroke heats Monday morning, Pelton turned on her computer, linked to Skype and called her old coach at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Paul Yetter, for some advice and reassurance.
“We talked,” Pelton said. “Everything was good … I decided I had to be a little faster” in Monday’s heats.
All went according to plan. Pelton kept her cool. She made it to the semifinals with the 12th-best qualifying time. And her finish in 1 minute, 0.47 seconds represented a personal best by 0.19.
“That was excellent,” said Bowman, whose training group at NBAC Pelton will join in the fall. “It was really, really good to come in and do a best time racing in a meet like this … she knows what she wants to do and how to do it.”
Pelton, however, likely won’t be earning her first world championship medal in the event’s final. Her time was far slower than the morning’s leaders. Britain’s Gemma Spofforth posted the fastest time and approached the world record, finishing in 58.78. American Hayley McGregory stood seventh with her time of 59.91. In the women’s 1500 free heats, Mission Viejo’s Chloe Sutton, 17, who used to train with the McLean-based Fish, finished seventh to reach the event’s final.
Another Suit Malfunction
A day after Ricky Berens swam in the qualifying heats of the 4×100 freestyle relay with exposed buttocks thanks to a large tear in his suit, Matt Grevers’s suit tore in the back as well. In his case, however, only about a two-inch circle on his lower back was exposed.
Grevers, who was wearing Tyr’s Sayonara suit for the first time in the 100 backstroke heats, barely advanced to the semifinals. He seized the 16th and final qualifying spot with his finish in 54.04 seconds.
“I tried the new suit, the full body, now I’m going to go back to the legs,” he said after the heat.
When the suit ripped, “I went uh-oh,” he said. “I didn’t completely freak out, but I was definitely conscious of it.”
Added Grevers, at least “my whole butt’s not sticking out.”
Fellow American Aaron Peirsol, the world-record holder in the event, tied with two others for the third-best time of the morning heats. He touched the wall in 53.08. Spain’s Aschwin Wildeboer finished first in 52.93; Japan’s Ryosuke Irie finished second in 53.00. Austria’s Markus Rogan, a West Potomac High graduate, posted the eighth-fastest time, 53.62.
In the women’s 100 breast, Rebecca Soni topped Australian Leisel Jones’s championship record of 1:05.72, touching the wall in 1:05.66.
Lochte Talks As Fast As He Races
Phelps’s jaw dropped during a press conference Sunday night at the choice of words used by U.S. teammate Ryan Lochte.
Asked about next year’s ban of long-length swimsuits, Lochte pulled out a bit of, uh, street jargon to describe swimming briefs.
“I wish it went back to the old school, like banana hammocks,” Lochte said after the 4×100 free relay in front of dozens of international journalists. “I’m cool with that.”
As Phelps’s face contorted in amusement and surprise, the comment drew only puzzled looks from journalists for whom the expression got completely lost in translation.
Said Phelps, handed the microphone next: “I don’t know how to follow that answer.”