Setting a new record for the meet, Phelps powered past Tyler Clary, to finish at 4 minutes 12.51 seconds before an appreciative crowd at the Indiana University Natatorium.
But it was this race that launched Phelps quest for a record eight gold medals in Beijing. He nailed it, beating his own world record with 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 mode.
“Painful,” he would say, crawling out of the pool in the preliminaries. 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 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.
Still, Phelps and Bowman continued to say Friday that they use the grueling race as a training tool, a way of assessing where Phelps is in his conditioning regimen as he trains for his fourth, and final, Olympics. Where, Bowman said, 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.
Given the revolving state of that door in the past, though, there may be those who still choose to see an opening there.