Phelps settles for another runner-up at Charlotte
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — For Michael Phelps, it's time to head to the mountains.
The 14-time Olympic gold medalist showed he still has some work to do before the London Games, settling for another runner-up finish at the Charlotte Grand Prix on Saturday. He was edged by China's Wu Peng in the 200-meter butterfly, losing to the same swimmer who ended Phelps' long winning streak in one of his signature events a year ago in Michigan.
Phelps doesn't sound worried.
"Sure, I sure hate to lose," he said. "But when it comes down to it, if I'm able to see where I'm at, see what I need to do and change, that's all I really need to get out of it."
Phelps was second all the way, trailing Wu at the first turn, then falling behind Sebastien Rousseau through the middle two laps of the race. Wu, who was fourth in the 200 fly at Beijing, showed an impressive finishing kick, passing Rousseau and Phelps to win in 1 minute, 56.69 seconds. Phelps was next at 1:56.87, while Rousseau slipped to third in 1:57.54.
"I know this is not the Olympic trials, this is not the Olympic Games," Phelps said. "It's a stepping stone heading in right direction for the end result. You've heard me say that so many times, but that's the truth. These are little things along the way — I like to call them quizzes — to really see what I need to improve on."
Phelps competed in only two races at Charlotte, also finishing second in the 200 freestyle. He will swim just one more meet, a minor event in Texas, before the U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha in late June.
For much of the next six weeks, he'll be locked away in the mountains of Colorado, just Phelps and coach Bob Bowman, training in high altitude and fine-tuning his strokes without any unnecessary distractions.
"I hope I come out alive," Phelps joked.
But he knows it's the right thing to do, a necessary step to ensure his fourth — and what he insists will be his final — Olympics provides a fitting capper to his brilliant career. He still needs to make some subtle improvements in his technique, and his laser-like focus is not quite where it needs to be. For instance, he heard the crowd cheering him on in the race and had to remind himself not to go out faster than he wanted. Then, on the finishing lap, he got a bit out of whack and found himself counting strokes in his head "for some reason."
"I'm within striking distance of where I need to be," Phelps insisted. "That's pretty much the reason why we decided to just go to Colorado Springs and stay there until the trials. We do get a lot of work done when we go there. I know that. It's a tough place to be in and train in for six weeks. But at this point, that's something I need and something I know that's really going to help me. Bob and I talked about it and decided that's the best decision for us to really have the best shot at being able to accomplish our goals. We're literally locked away from everything and nobody can get to us. All we do is train, eat, sleep and swim. We do nothing else."
Wu, who's made the 200 fly finals at the last two Olympics but has yet to win a medal, knows that Phelps will be a lot tougher to beat in London than he was in Charlotte.
"I was satisfied with my performance," he said. "I think Michael is not feeling good yet. I was just lucky."
Wu is realistic about his own goals, knowing that he has the misfortune of excelling in an event that Phelps has won at the last two Olympics and will be heavily favored to take again at these games.
"If I just get any medal in London, I will be happy," Wu said. "Everyone wants to beat Michael because Michael is the fastest swimmer in the world. But I really just want to be top three."
A pair of 18-year-olds, Elizabeth Pelton and Rachel Bootsma, tied for first in the women's 100 backstroke at 1:00.25. Eleven-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin settled for third.
Despite the result, Coughlin is optimistic about her preparations for London, where she will have a chance to surpass Jenny Thompson as America's most decorated female swimmer.
"I feel really good," Coughlin said. "My racing hasn't been the best yet, but my training has been better than it's ever been."
Olympic champion Rebecca Soni cruised to a win in the women's 200 breaststroke, adding to the 100 breast title she won the previous night. Her time of 2:22.22 was the best in the world this year, beating the 2:22.73 she swam at the Austin Grand Prix in January.
In the men's 200 breast, Eric Shanteau easily beat Brendan Hansen in 2:09.72, more than 2 seconds ahead of his fellow Olympian. At the 2008 Olympic trials, shortly after learning he had testicular cancer, Shanteau pulled off a huge upset to knock Hansen out of a spot on the Olympic team in that event.
Allison Schmitt won the women's 400 free, with the top three finishers all breaking Katie Hoff's meet record. Schmitt touched in 4:05.40, Kathleen Ledecky was next at 4:05.79, and Chloe Sutton took third in 4:07.53.
Hoff, trying to recapture the form that made her one of the top American hopes going into the Beijing Olympics, was far back in fourth at 4:13.15, well off the meet record she set in 2006 (4:07.83).
In the 50 freestyle, Jessica Hardy won the women's final, while Charlotte-based Josh Schneider took the men's one-lap sprint, edging Australian Matthew Targett by 27-hundredths of a second. Olympian Cullen Jones settled for sixth, actually going slower in the final than he did in the prelims.
In the remaining events, Kathleen Hersey took the women's 200 butterfly, Nick Thoman won the men's 100 back, Tunisia's Ous Mellouli captured the men's 400 free, Dan Vollmer touched first in the women's 50 fly, and Targett won the 50 fly on the men's side.
Ryan Lochte finished last in the 100 back, but again showed that he's not serious about results at this point in the season by wearing a brief instead of a regular racing suit.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963