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Blind dash to gold, the Phelps way

india Updated: Aug 14, 2008 20:57 IST
Indraneel Das
Indraneel Das
Hindustan Times
If Michael Phelps stole the limelight on Wednesday

WEARING THAT invisible armour of resilience and determination, Michael Phelps plunged into the Cube’s blue waters on Wednesday and plucked his first gold in butterfly ahead of Hungary’s Laszio Cseh. The quest for eight gold medals could have been derailed by water-filled goggles but Phelps took it in his stride.

"I couldn't have done anything either," he said, smiling at his helplessness. "I couldn't have stopped and pulled it away form my eyes. As soon as I dove in it was filled up." To think that even someone as programmed as him can have equipment malfunction.

"Going into the 150 wall and the finish, I couldn't see anything," Phelps said. "I went blind, so I just let it not disturb me. I remained focused and started to count my strokes. I am very good at that. I was just hoping that I was winning," said the world record holder who loves listening to music.

"I was upset it happened. But I did my best and won the gold." He ripped off the goggles to look at his time. He was in first in world-record pace and at the 100 and 150m marks he led Cseh by.67s. Phelps bettered his world record by .06 seconds. "I knew I could go faster than this. I hope I will do better next time," he said earnestly.

Attention please

This from a man who had his teacher’s complaining to his mother “your son will never be able to focus on anything”. Hear him now. “I have to remain focused all the time. I have to take one race at a time,” said Phelps, who suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder as a child. He even was on medication, something his mother still feels bad about. He was put on Retalin at nine to control hyperactivity for a very short period.

When asked about his childhood disorder, he just said: "It is pretty big to stay focus. This is my third Olympics and I have already swum in World Championships and major meets, so I have got used to it. These things helped me to develop an unwavering focus."

Lighter side of life

Asked whether he is in touch with his family in the US, he said “I am” and read out a text message he received from a close friend before Wednesday’s first race. The message read: "How many times do we have to see your ugly face," That sent the packed house to peals of laughter.

Pellegrini turns water into gold for Italy

The ambience at the Water Cube is electrifying. The décor can mesmerise and captivate anyone who steps within its ambit and the packed vociferous crowd can make emotions run wild. In the first two semifinals of 100m freestyle, world records were broken and set. In the next two individual events — 200m women’s freestyle and 200m butterfly —two world records were sunk.

If Michael Phelps stole the limelight on Wednesday, there were lesser mortals who were trying to etch their names in gold here on Wednesday. One such name was Federica Pellegrini, a 20-year-old swimmer from Italy.

Pellegrini, seeking redemption at the futuristic Cube after her failure in the 400m, took it out in the 200m freestyle. She not only won gold but also broke the world record to become the youngest Italian swimmer to win a gold medal in swimming.

To get there, she clocked 1:54.82, a clear .15sec better than her previous best, which she managed here in the heats. Behind her was Slovenia’s charming Sara Isakovic (1:54.97), who was elated to be the first swimmer for her country to win gold. China’s Pang Jiaying came third at 1:55.05.

When asked how she managed to stage a comeback after losing the 400m, Pellegrini said the defeat helped her to refocus. “I lost out on the medal because of a tactical error,” said the 20-year-old. “It isn’t easy to comeback after such a setback. But my coach really motivated me and told me to believe in my instincts. That’s what I did.”

As to her dash here today, “what makes me happy is the way I won. I created a world record and I broke the 1.55s barrier as well.”

The Slovenian on the other hand was simply elated to be on the podium. “I am very happy to become the first Slovenian swimmer to win a silver,” she said.

“It was very close. In the last 25m I was attacking her. I gave every last molecule of my energy.”

World records in 100m freestyle

This is one event where Michael Phelps isn’t taking part. This is the event where there is a chance for others to go for the gold. But after the two semi-finals, it’s still not clear who will go all the way.

Alain Bernard’s world record lasted for just five minutes. In the first semi-final, he wiped off .04 seconds off Eamon Sullivan’s 47.24s set during the heats.

Five minutes later, when Sullivan plunged into the water he did not want give away his record. He snatched it back with 47.05 to enter the final as the fastest swimmer. Champion Pieter van den Hoogenband finished third overall in a personal best of 47.68.