Phelps gets spot in final for relay

Posted: August 15, 2004

Michael Phelps got his first Olympic win - before the Athens Games even began.

In a move that ticked off sprint star Gary Hall Jr. but should give Phelps his best chance to break Mark Spitz's record, the U.S. coaching staff tentatively reserved a spot for their most touted swimmer in the final of tomorrow's 4x100-meter freestyle relay.

After a workout yesterday, Hall revealed that the coveted spots in the evening final would go to Jason Lezak, Ian Crocker and Phelps - plus a slot to be determined early today.

"There were no exceptions for anyone else," Hall grumbled. "No one qualified for the Olympic team in February except Michael Phelps."

There is one scenario that could knock Phelps out of the relay final. The coaches told Hall and the other preliminary swimmers - Nate Dusing, Neil Walker and Gabe Woodward - that if two of them swam faster than 48.4 seconds in the morning, both would get spots in the final at the expense of Phelps.

That seems unlikely. Hall has a personal best of 48.81. Walker's top time is 48.55. Neither Woodward nor Dusing has ever broken 49 seconds.

He has 20 races in eight days, including today's morning heat and tonight's 400-individual medley final.

Rock a bye, baby. Light welterweight Rock Allen of Philadelphia received a first-round bye in the boxing competition.

Presidential treatment. President Bush met with U.S. athletes at the American College of Greece, urging them to complete "with class and dignity." He was accompanied by former first lady Barbara Bush and by granddaughters Barbara and Jenna, daughters of the current president.

The first medals of the Athens Games will be determined today, starting with women's 10-meter air rifle. Emily Caruso and Hattie Johnson will try to follow in the footsteps of Nancy Johnson, who won the first gold of the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the same event.

Qualifying in men's gymnastics also will get under way. Team USA will be led by all-around world champion Paul Hamm.

Tara Nott Cunningham, who won gold in 2000, will compete in women's 48-kilogram (105.5-pound) weightlifting.

The most scenic event is sure to come from cycling. The 139.4-mile men's road race will circle 17 times near the Parthenon and Parliament, with the Acropolis as a backdrop.

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