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Phelps Stars in Eric Namesnik Memorial

May 21, 2006

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) _ Michael Phelps did his best to put swimming back in the spotlight Saturday night at the Eric Namesnik Memorial Grand Prix.

``The publicity from the Athens Olympics created more of a buzz around the sport,″ Phelps said. ``We have to take advantage of that.

``Plus, we only have 810 days left until Beijing. That Olympics will be my last chance to try a large-event program. How large? That’s something we’ll set in stone after the World Championships next year. ... We’ll see.″

An estimated 1,200 fans saw the first of five Grand Prix events before the USA Swimming National Championships on Aug. 1-5 in Irvine, Calif. With eight medals from Athens, including six golds, Phelps was clearly the main attraction.

Phelps won the 400-meter individual medley by nearly 5 seconds over a top field. He wanted a time in the 4:20 range and was satisfied with a 4:21.19 clocking.

An hour later, Phelps returned to the Canham Natatorium pool at the University of Michigan, where he swims for longtime coach Bob Bowman and Club Wolverine.

The idea was for Phelps to turn in even splits. And he did that with a pair of 56s, only to finish third behind teammates Andy Hunter and Klete Keller.

``I thought I would go a little bit faster,″ Phelps said. ``But when I got out of the pool, I said to Bob, ‘You told me to even-split it!’ All he could say was ‘True.’ ``

Before their conversation ended, Phelps asked Bowman if he could team Sunday with Klete Keller and Pete Vanderkaay, three-fourths of the United States’ gold-medal team, in a swift 800 relay.

``You have to understand one thing,″ Phelps said. ``One of the big reasons I’m here and so many others are, too, is to honor ‘Snik’ (Namesnik). I wanted to put a time down in the 400 IM because that was Eric’s event. I told the other guys, ’Let’s put a time down for him.‴

Phelps remembered meeting Namesnik on the winners stand when he was 11 years old and being told that he had a limp handshake. He has had plenty of chances to strengthen that grip and his grasp of success.

``I won’t be 21 ‘til June, and I know I’m closer to the end than the beginning,″ Phelps said. ``And I know this much. It’s an honor to swim in the same pool that ‘Snik’ did. When he died (in an auto accident in January) and everyone came back for his funeral, I saw what family was all about.″

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