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M200 'Fly: Phelps In His Element For 5th Win

Jul 27, 2011  - Craig Lord

Day 4 finals, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai

Men's 200m butterfly

Michael Phelps, winner of the 2001, 2003, 2007 and 2009 titles, with a break from the event taken as past of his post-Athens downtime in 2005, retained a nine-year run of victories over 200m butterfly on the biggest of occasions, taking a record fifth world crown of his career in the event in 1:53.34 ahead of Takeshi Matsuda (JPN), on 1:54.01, and Wu Peng (CHN), whose 1:54.67 locked out Chinese teammate Chen Yin on 1:55.00, Chad Le Clos (RSA) on 1:55.07.

Phelps raced smartly, the lessons of yesterday learned on the run. Leading at the half-way mark, the Olympic champion let Matsuda approach and get to the last wall ahead of him. Out of the turn, Phelps surged into his stroke with awesome momentum renewed. He never looked back, the rest left to wonder what might have been but unable to cope with a man who refused to give an inch.

The result:

  • 1. Michael Phelps (U.S.) 1:53.34
  • 2. Takeshi Matsuda (Japan) 1:54.01
  • 3. Wu Peng (China) 1:54.67
  • 4. Chen Yin (China) 1:55.00
  • 5. Chad Le Clos (South Africa) 1:55.07
  • 6. Pawel Korzeniowski (Poland) 1:55.39
  • 7. Dinko Jukic (Austria) 1:55.48 
  • 8. Bence Biczo (Hungary) 1:55.53

Korzeniowski was the 2005 world champion in the midst of Phelps's run, the American opting out of the race six years ago.

"That's sort of been my bread and butter event," said the winner of the 2004 and 2008 Olympic titles who has held the world record ever since he claimed it as the youngest world-record breaker in history at the age of 15 back in 2001. 

Victory, after silver in the freestyle relay last Sunday and in the 200m freestyle yesterday, delivered the 23rd world-championship gold medal for Phelps.  "I felt like myself the last 100 of that race. I didn't feel like I was dying," Phelps said. "I wanted to do what I usually do when I'm in better shape," Phelps added. "I wanted to step on it from the get-go. I saw the other swimmers at the 150 and I put my hips into it. I know there's a lot more I can do in that race."

Phelps had a streak of 60 consecutive wins over 200m butterfly since losing the Pan Pacific title to Tom Malchow, the 2000 Olympic champion, back in 2002. That defeat was among the moments that moulded Phelps into the almost invincible force he became on a journey that has included a record 14 Olympic gold medals, including a soaring eight in Beijing. The long-course streak was struck out by Wu at a couple of grand prix events in the US this year but Phelps remains unbeaten at world and Olympic levels since 2002.

It is always hard to pinpoint one swim above others in the pantheon of greatest performances, even if you count only those you have witnessed, but among the candidates for the crown is the 1:52.09 world record that Phelps established at the Melbourne world titles on March 28, 2007. It came a month and 11 days after he had left the mark at 1:53.71 when not yet rested to peak and it coincided with the arrival of what was dubbed "the fifth stroke", underwater dolphin kicking off walls like it had never been known before. Wu Peng (CHN) took silver back then in 1:55.13, making the moment the biggest winning margin in the event since world titles began in 1973. 

Here is what the then head coach Mark Schubert said in Melbourne: "There has been nobody that's been not just as dominant but as versatile. His performance this week was the greatest performance of all-time." At that moment Phelps had taken five golds and Schubert said: "I don't really look at it by medals but by the dominance and by the records and the way he handled it from ever to event to event. I just didn't notice any weak points ... and then (in the 100 'fly) when he goes to touch the wall and his head is clearly behind but he still finds a way to get his hands on the wall. He can do it from behind, he can do it from the front, he can do it when its close, he can do it when its not close."

Which was the best of all his efforts? "It's very difficult to say but when you shatter the world record in the 200 'fly like he did and beat the field by 3sec in a world championship, that's mind-boggling," said Schubert.

The splits compared:

  • 2007: 25.26; 53.62; 1:22.87; 1:52.08 Phelps Melbourne 
  • 2009: 24.76; 52.88; 1:21.93; 1:51.51 Phelps Rome
  • 2011: 25.02; 53.86; 1:23.42; 1:53.34 Phelps Shanghai

History in the making:


  • WR (all suits): 1:51.51 Michael Phelps (USA) Rome July 29, 2009
  • WR (textile):   1:52.09 Michael Phelps (USA) Melbourne March 28, 2007
  • First man inside 2:00: Roger Pyttel (GDR)*   1:59.63, Berlin June 3, 1976 
  • First man inside 1:57: Michael Gross (FRG)   1:56.65, Sofia, August 10, 1985  
  • First man inside 1:55: Michael Phelps (USA)  1:54.92, Austin, March 30, 2001
  • First man inside 1:53: Michael Phelps (USA)  1:52.09, Melbourne, March 28, 2007

World-class stats:

  • World Record wins: Melvin Stewart (USA); Phelps, 2001, 2007, 2009
  • Title retained: Michael Gross (FRG); Phelps
  • Most Titles: 5, Phelps
  • Biggest margin: Phelps beat Wu Peng (CHN) by 3.04sec in 2007
  • Closest shave: Denis Silantiev (UKR) beat Frank Esposito (FRA) by 0.16sec in 1998

From the archive:

Of the 13 titles since 1973, eight have gone to the USA. Michael Phelps has accounted for four of those (2001, 2003, 2007 and 2009). Michael Gross was a giant in every sense: he stood 202cm tall, had an arm-span of 2m 27cm earning him the nickname “The Albatross”) and raced to three Olympic and five world titles and 12 world records. Ten of those marks fell in solo events that spanned 200 (4) and 400m freestyle (1), 100m (1) and 200m butterfly (4). In 1986, Gross celebrated a double-double at the World Championships in Madrid: by winning the 200m freestyle and butterfly he became the first man to retain those titles and remains the only man to have done so.