The Baltimore favorite loses the 400 freestyle relay to South Africa on Sunday

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated August 16, 2004 08:00 AM

Michael Phelps’s dream to beat Mark Spitz’s 1972 record of seven gold medals was laid to rest Sunday when the United States was upset by South Africa in the 400 freestyle relay – but the 19-year-old from Baltimore was back in the pool in Athens Monday, preparing for the Olympic 200-meter butterfly.

“It sorta hurts,” Phelps, looking stunned, told reporters as he got out of the pool Sunday night to take the bronze medal. (The Netherlands took the silver.) “We wanted to win. But this is all we had, and these were the four fastest guys we had.”

Phelps can still tie Spitz’s elusive high-water mark if he wins his four remaining individual races and swims on the other two relays. So far he has won one gold medal, in the 400 individual medley.

“It was a little hard after last night,” he said Monday. “It took a lot out of me emotionally, for sure. I wanted a strong one this morning.”

Monday night, Phelps is scheduled to swim the much-hyped 200 free final – which will pit him against Australian Ian Thorpe and defending Olympic champion Pieter van den Hoogenband – followed by the 200 fly semifinal.

“He just wanted to be in that race. I have no idea if he can win or not, but I think he’ll put up a really good time,” his coach, Bob Bowman, tells the Associated Press, adding that Phelps is not obsessed with beating the Spitz record.

“If the seven gold medals was any consideration, there’s no way he would have done the 200 free. He would have put all his eggs in the relay basket and rested up tonight, but he wants to see what he can do.”