Champaign product part of U.S. medley relay
ROME – Michael Phelps had every reason to be satisfied after the Beijing Olympics. Yet he kept insisting there was more to do in the pool.
Even coming off his longest layoff and the embarrassment of being photographed inhaling from a marijuana pipe, Phelps turned in another remarkable performance over eight days at the Foro Italico. He completed it Sunday night by helping the U.S. 400-meter medley relay team set the 43rd world record of the fastest meet in history. Champaign Central product Tyler McGill swam the butterfly leg in the event preliminaries and was awarded a gold medal for his efforts.
The U.S. medley relay had the third-fastest time in prelims: 3 minutes, 29.94 seconds. McGill swam his leg in 50.82. His career best in the 100-meter individual butterfly is 50.90, which he swam Friday in the World Championships prelims.
Phelps didn't win another eight golds. This time, he made do with five golds and a silver.
Still, Phelps showed plenty of fire, even when there's really nothing left to prove.
"I never want to look back on my career and ask, 'What if?' " he said.
Swimming the butterfly leg, Phelps helped the U.S. pull away from Germany and Australia to win in 3:27.28. That easily broke the mark of 3:29.34 set by the Americans at last summer's Olympics, another relay team that included Phelps.
"That relay brings out the best in me," Phelps said. "It doesn't matter how much energy I have, it's all going to go into every race. That's one of the things that I enjoy most – stepping out onto the blocks no matter what kind of shape I'm in."
Phelps took six months off after his Beijing triumph, drew a three-month suspension from competition after the infamous pipe photo – and he was still honored as the outstanding male swimmer of the championships. Italy's Federica Pellegrini received the female award at the final major meet for high-tech bodysuits, which will be banned Jan. 1.
We aren't likely to see these sort of times for years, maybe decades.
But Phelps said he's not concerned about turning back the clock on attire. He's got plenty of goals in mind.
"I have more things I want to do," he said. "That's why I wanted to come back. I don't care if anyone says it was a bad idea or not, it's something that I wanted and that's why I'm doing it."
His coach, Bob Bowman, said Phelps will get all of two weeks off before he's back in the pool.
On to London in 2012.
"I've got to be in better shape," Phelps said. "I think without taking six months off, that will do it."
When he had the final gold of the World Championships in his possession, Phelps made his usual climb into the stands to get a hug from his mother and sister.
It was Debbie Phelps who got her son fired up for Rome by saying she wanted to see him swim in the Eternal City, not just get in a little sightseeing.
"I didn't want her to come here and not swim well in front of her," he said.
He found other reasons to be motivated – notably when Serbia's Milorad Cavic tried to get in his head before their showdown in the 100 fly. Both swimmers became the first to break 50 seconds, but it was Phelps who touched first in a world record.
"A lot of motivating comments were said," Phelps pointed out, without mentioning Cavic by name. "That always gets me going. That's something that helped me along the way."
Eric Shanteau, who overcame testicular cancer to swim his best times, picked up the first major gold medal of his career on the breaststroke leg of the relay, to go along with a silver and a bronze in Rome. The other members of the winning team were backstroker Aaron Peirsol and freestyle anchor David Walters.
Shanteau was thrilled to finally step on the top rung of the podium. Last summer, he learned just before the U.S. Olympic Trials he had cancer. He put off treatment until after the Games and underwent surgery when he got home.