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Motivated by 2 recent losses, Phelps races again

MICHAEL Phelps feels he has something to prove, mostly to himself, as he looks to avenge two recent losses in the pool at this weekend's the Santa Clara Invitational Grand Prix.

Last month, 14-time Olympic gold medalist Phelps was beaten by a couple of world recordholders in the 100-meter freestyle and backstroke events at the Charlotte Grand Prix, his first meet since capturing a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Games. He also won two events - the 100 butterfly and 200 free.

"I can't stand to lose, no matter what stroke it is," he said yesterday after practice at the outdoor pool where wind whipped up the water. "I can always turn a negative into a positive. If I'm disappointed, it's going to motivate me."

Phelps is back in serious training, having spent the last three weeks at high-altitude in Colorado. He's got structure again in his daily life, and that's just the way coach Bob Bowman likes it.

"He's now back training really well," Bowman said. "We're still in the experimental stage with his freestyle stroke, so you never know what you're going to get."

Phelps unveiled a new windmill-like motion in his freestyle stroke at Charlotte, mixing it with his normal bent-at-the-elbow technique to pick up speed.

"I'm swimming with an open mind," he said.

The nine-month layoff that ended last month was the longest of Phelps' career, though he had intended to come back earlier.

Those plans were derailed after he was photographed using a marijuana pipe, a picture that wound up on the front page of a British tabloid, and he was handed a three-month suspension by USA Swimming.

His return in Charlotte attracted a gaggle of media, where he faced relentless scrutiny and questions about his life out of the pool. Things are decidedly more laid-back at Santa Clara, a low-key meet that has attracted some of the world's best swimmers over the last 42 years.

"I feel at home and more comfortable," Phelps said. "I'd like to move forward and be able to look back at the training we've done this year and say we got something out of it."

Phelps swims his first event, the 200 fly, today. He's the world recordholder with a mark he set in Beijing. That time is nearly 4 seconds faster than his closest challenger in the event.

Things will get more interesting on Saturday, when Phelps swims the 400 free. He comes in as the third-fastest qualifier in an event where Australian great Ian Thorpe still owns the world record.

"I want to be able to swim the 400 free the right way," Phelps said. "I always take the first 200 out hard."

He'll cap off the weekend with two races on Sunday, taking on rival Ryan Lochte in the 100 free and 100 back. Those are the events Phelps lost in Charlotte.

Swimming the 100 back outdoors poses new challenges.

"You have nothing to look at, so it's going to be hard to stay in a straight line," Phelps said.

Relegated to the scrap heap are the 200 free and 200 and 400 individual medleys - all events in which Phelps owns the world record and won in Beijing. He's remaking himself as a sprinter in the four-year push to the 2012 London Games, his final Olympics before retirement.

Lochte, who won four medals in Beijing, is entered in eight events this weekend. Also planning a heavy workload is Katie Hoff, who now trains with Bowman after she failed to win a gold medal in Beijing. She'll resume her rivalry with Australian Stephanie Rice in the 100 and 200 freestyles, in addition to being entered in five other events.

Rice is one of several Australians at the meet, along with Olympic champion Leisel Jones.

Dagny Knutson, a 17-year-old , who trained with Phelps in Colorado, will be trying to position herself for big results at next month's US nationals, where the team for the world championships will be chosen.

Knutson won seven medals, including six gold, at the junior national championships in Guam in January. The budding star will test herself in five events this weekend, going against Hoff, Olympic champion Rice and Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe.


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