Aug 23 (Reuters) – It’s not often that Michael Phelps gets upstaged in the pool, especially when he wins. But that’s exactly what happened at the Pan Pacific championships on Saturday.
Phelps won his first individual gold medal at an international meet in two years to show that his comeback to swimming is gathering momentum and he is on course to add to his stockpile at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
But the greatest swimmer of all time was overshadowed by his American teammate Katie Ledecky, who smashed her own world record in the women’s 400 metres freestyle final.
Just 17 and getting better each time she dives in the water, Ledecky was in a class of her own at as she cruised to victory in three minutes, 58.37 seconds.
She slashed almost half a second off the previous world record she set in California earlier this month, despite being under world record pace with 100m to go.
“It’s a good feeling,” she said in a poolside interview. “I was just racing my best time and trying to swim faster.”
Ledecky also holds the women’s world record for 800m and 1,500m freestyle and is riding high on a wave of success.
Already a world and Olympic champion, she has picked up four gold medals at the Pan Pacifics – the 200m, 400m and 800m individual events plus the 4x200m relay – and is emerging as the sport’s biggest star.
For the past two years, another American teenager has been the hottest kid on the blocks but Missy Franklin has had a wretched time at Australia’s Gold Coast this week.
She almost pulled out of the meet because of back spasms but with the Pan Pacs doubling as the U.S. trials for next year’s world championships, she decided to swim in pain.
Franklin achieved her goal of qualifying for the world championships despite being beaten in each of the three individual events she won at last year’s worlds.
On Saturday, she faded to finish outside the top three in the 200m backstroke, four seconds off her own world record, with the victory going to Australia’s Belinda Hocking.
American Tyler Clary won the men’s 200m backstroke while South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan took out the men’s 400m freestyle as he prepares for next month’s Asian Games.
Phelps won the 100m butterfly – an event he captured at three successive Olympics – in 51.29 seconds, after reaching the halfway mark in sixth place then unleashing a devastating burst.
“I guess it feels good to win again, it’s been a while,” Phelps said.
“I’m pretty happy and it sets my up for a pretty good worlds.
“What brought me back is the desire to be in the pool. It’s not that I still need it, it’s that I still want it.”
Australia’s Alicia Coutts won the women’s 100m butterfly before the host-nation finished off the night by narrowly beating the U.S. to win both the men’s and women’s 4x100m freestyle relays.
(Reporting by Julian Linden in Singapore; editing by Martyn Herman)