By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun
10:35 PM EDT, March 30, 2012
That door Michael Phelps keeps slamming on ever again swimming the exhausting 400-meter individual medley race? Apparently, it's a revolving one.
After the Baltimore swimmer raced to a record-setting finish in the 400 IM at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Friday night, he said that there was a chance he would add the event to his still secret line-up in the Olympics this summer.
"Who knows?" an exuberant Phelps said when asked if this really, really, really was the last time he would swim the race he swore off after the 2008 Olympics, but has since returned to multiple times.
He still contends that it would be tough to compete in the crowd-pleasing race in this summer's Olympics because, as his first event, swimming such a grueling race could sap him for subsequent ones.
"I'm going to have to come back and do other events well," Phelps said. "I just can't have it affect my other races."
On Friday, Phelps powered past Tyler Clary to a close finish, touching the wall at 4 minutes, 12.51 seconds, a record for this meet and his fastest time since Beijing. Phelps' teammate at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Chase Kalisz, came in third.
But the race was between Clary and Phelps, something obvious to both since they were swimming in adjacent lanes at the center of the pool, 4 and 5 respectively.
"I knew when we turned at the 200, I knew it was going to be a close race," Phelps said. "I just don't want to lose."
If Phelps has been self-critical of late — he repeatedly talks about how "terrible" his times have been in the years after the '08 Olympics — Friday's win surely elevated his spirits. During the cool-down in the practice pool, he seemed to spend as much time laughing uproariously with a couple of fellow swimmers as doing his slow laps.
It was quite the turnaround from the grimacing that has tended to accompany talk of the 400 IM, an all-four-strokes endurance test that swimmers consider the hardest of the sport. Phelps owns the U.S. and world records for it, and it was this race that launched Phelps quest for a record eight gold medals in Beijing. He nailed it, beating his own previous world record with a 4:03.84 finish.
The victory was even sweeter because of a deal he told reporters at the time that he had made with Bowman.
"I told Bob that I wanted this to be my last 400 IM. He said I have to end on a record," Phelps said. "In my opinion, that was my last one."
Not quite. Phelps swam it two years later, at the Pan Pacific Championships in Irvine, Calif., when he was still in his post-Beijing, practice-skipping funk.
"Painful," he would say, crawling out of the pool in the preliminaries there. Although he put in the fourth fastest qualifying time, that wasn't good enough to make the finals that were limited to the top two qualifiers from each country, Ryan Lochte and Clary, in the U.S.'s case. Lochte, his friend and rival, ultimately won.
Then, there was the 400 IM race at the Berlin World Cup in October 2011, won by … Phelps. And the 400 IM event at the Austin Grand Prix in January of this year, won by — you guessed it — Phelps.
Even on Friday — even as Phelps pronounced himself "very happy" with his performance — he winced at its demands.
"Oh my God, that hurt so bad," he said.
But maybe not as badly as several months ago: Phelps said he had a good first half of the race in Austin, "then I died … I could barely get out of the pool." This time, he didn't start feeling quite so deathly until close to the end.
Bowman continues to say that they'll use the 400 IM as a training tool, a way of assessing where Phelps is in his conditioning regimen as he prepares for London. Where, Bowman said before Friday night's race, fans shouldn't expect to see Phelps swimming a 400 IM.
"I would say that the door is pretty much closed on that," he said.
After the race, though, he thought he saw more light on the other side.
"Maybe it's a little bigger crack now," Bowman said.
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