Peirsol holds off Phelps

Olympian defends 100 backstroke

Staff WriterMay 17, 2009 

— The backstroke has been Aaron Peirsol's baby for years. He wasn't about to let Michael Phelps take it away from him.

Peirsol, who won the Olympic gold medal in both 2004 and 2008 in the 100 backstroke, edged Phelps in that same event Saturday at the Charlotte UltraSwim.

Peirsol's victory in 53.32 seconds to Phelps' time of 53.79 was the evening's most electric moment as 1,500 people crammed inside the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center stood and screamed for the entire race. The loss left Phelps 2-for-3 in events at the UltraSwim with one "incomplete."

Phelps was also beaten Saturday morning in a preliminary heat of the 50 freestyle by Charlotte native Jared White, but both of them posted a good enough time to swim the "A" final. Phelps, however, dropped out to concentrate on the 100.

"I definitely wanted to win that," said Peirsol, who held off Phelps late.

Phelps' coach Bob Bowman said Phelps erred in not swimming the first 50 meters faster so he could be ahead of Peirsol by the halfway point.

"You can't do that against the best finisher in history," Bowman said of Peirsol. The coach also said Phelps "didn't have any legs at the end, and that's just conditioning."

In the 50 freestyle final Saturday -- another race that had an Olympic feel -- Fred Bousquet of France won in 21.33 seconds, just four-tenths of a second off the world record he set in April. Cullen Jones, the former N.C. State swimmer, finished second in 21.92.

Those two will face off again in the 100 freestyle tonight in a final that will also likely include Phelps and Charlotte's Ricky Berens. The 100 freestyle will be Phelps' last race at this meet.

Saturday night showcased the first time Phelps had lost in a final since prior to the Beijing Olympics, when he went on an 8-for-8 gold-medal spree. It had actually been 364 days since Phelps last lost a final -- also to Peirsol, also in the backstroke.

"It doesn't matter what stroke it is, what event it is, I don't like to lose," Phelps said.

Peirsol is one of the few swimmers who has a winning record against Phelps, at least in his signature events -- the 100 and 200 backstroke. Peirsol has dominated the backstroke for much of this decade and has five Olympic gold medals himself.

"Mike is one of the only guys who has pushed me," Peirsol said. "And we all need to be pushed."

Bowman said Phelps remembers his losses more than his wins and that the defeat would likely make coaching Phelps easier. "When Michael gets beat, he remembers the race more. When I say, 'Let's do some kicking to help with the 100 back,' it'll have more credence."

Jones, like Phelps, is trying out a new, straighter-armed stroke in his freestyle events.

sfowler@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5140

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