Phelps sets 400 mark with gold

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Michael Phelps wasn't taking any chances.
The night before, he fired up by watching the movie "Miracle." While on deck at the Olympic pool, he had Eminem's "'Till I Collapse" blaring in his headphones. Before climbing atop the starting block, he stared down the 50-meter strip of water.
"I was more ready for this," Phelps said, "than I've ever been."
Now the first gold's out of the way.
He's an Olympic champion -- just like Mark Spitz.
Phelps began his quest to overtake Spitz's 1972 record haul of seven gold medals with a dominating performance in the 400-meter individual medley, breaking his own world record Saturday night and claiming the first U.S. gold medal of the Athens Games.
Thorpe triumphs
It was a rousing start to the much-anticipated Olympic swim meet. Before the night was done, Ian Thorpe won his second straight gold in the 400 freestyle -- a race he got into only through the generosity of an Australian teammate -- and Jenny Thompson was denied her record-tying ninth gold medal when she gave up the lead to Australia on the final leg of the 400 free relay.
"It was a change of pace for me to be passed by someone," Thompson said. "It's usually the other way around."
The Aussies got the upper hand in their spirited swim rivalry with the Americans, winning two of the night's four races. But the powerful U.S. team claimed five medals in all, more than any other country on the first of eight days at the sweltering outdoor pool.
Phelps and teammate Erik Vendt got things started with a 1-2 finish. Phelps touched the wall in 4 minutes, 8.26 seconds, while Vendt was more than 31/2 seconds behind but good enough for silver at 4:11.81.
May be in 8 events
Phelps is just getting warmed up. He will likely swim in eight events, giving him a chance to break Spitz's record at the Munich Games.
So far, Phelps is following the script of the best swimmer in Olympic history: All seven of Spitz's wins were in record time.
"I'm a little bit less nervous," said Phelps, 19, of Baltimore. "I've got one off my shoulders and can relax a little bit."
Thorpe almost missed the 400 free -- his best event -- when he inexplicably fell off the starting block at the Australian trials, earning an automatic disqualification. But he got in when teammate Craig Stevens gave up his spot.
The two are rooming together at the Olympic Village. "I'm glad I'll be able to share it with one of my friends," Thorpe said.
Barely repels Hackett
The Thorpedo barely held off another countryman, Grant Hackett, to win in 3:43.10. American Klete Keller took bronze for the second straight Olympics, setting an American record of 3:44.11.
"I didn't realize how much this event meant to me," said Thorpe, who fought back tears after touching the wall. "I am more excited now that it is off my shoulders."
Thompson, 31, had a chance for her ninth gold when she dove into the water for the anchor leg with a lead of nearly four-tenths of a second.
But the best relay swimmer in U.S. history couldn't hold it. Jodie Henry passed Thompson after they made the final turn nearly in unison, touching the wall in 3:35.94 to break the world record of 3:36.00 set by Germany two years ago.
The winning team included Alice Mills, Lisbeth Lenton and Petria Thomas, but it was Henry who did the bulk of the work. She swam nearly a second faster than Thompson with a stunning time of 52.95 for the final 100.
Best of her team
Thompson swam her 100 in 53.77 -- best of the American swimmers and enough to give the team a national record of 3:36.39. The Netherlands took bronze in 3:37.59.
"We were so close," Thompson said. "We set a new American record. I think that's pretty cool."
In the night's other final, Yana Klochkova of Ukraine won her second straight 400 individual medley at the Olympics, holding off American Kaitlin Sandeno by just the length of a hand.
Klochkova became the first two-time winner of the women's 400 IM in Olympic history. The world-record holder took gold in 4:34.83 -- just 12-hundredths of a second ahead of Sandeno.
Sandeno still set an American record, while Georgina Bardach of Argentina claimed the bronze in 4:37.51.
"It's my best time by 51/2 seconds," Sandeno said. "I wasn't even upset that I got outpunched."
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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