IRVINE, CALIFORNIA – Tom Shields upset three-time Olympic champion Michael Phelps by one hundredth of a second to win the 100-meter butterfly at the U.S. national championships on Friday.
Shields touched in 51.29 seconds, tying for the second-fastest time in the world this year. Phelps was second in 51.30, losing for the second time in as many events this week; his biggest meet since making a comeback in April.
“I’m somebody who can’t stand to lose,” Phelps said. “I don’t care if it’s by a hundredth or by five seconds. This will definitely motivate me.”
Four of the seven quickest times in the world were recorded in the morning preliminaries, led by Phelps’ 51.17. But he couldn’t keep it together in the final against Shields, who also won the 200 butterfly earlier in the meet.
Phelps is still likely to earn a spot on the U.S. team for the Pan Pacific Championships this month, but he could have guaranteed himself a trip to Australia with a win in the event that he calls “my baby.” He finished next-to-last in the 100 freestyle Wednesday.
The 18-time Olympic gold medalist has two events remaining this weekend.
Tim Phillips was third in 51.54. Ryan Lochte finished fifth in 52.21.
Phelps was seventh after one lap and was closing hard on Shields in the closing stages, but his decision to glide to the wall rather than take another stroke cost him.
“It just cut all of my momentum,” he said.
Bob Bowman, Phelps’ coach, said, “It was pretty terrible.”
Phelps didn’t feel like his usual self walking on deck, while Shields confidently looked at the stands and then at his California teammates, who cheered him on during introductions.
“Normally I’m very relaxed and very ready,” Phelps said. “Like Bob said, it’s probably just because I’m not used to being in this kind of shape or this kind of feeling going into a meet.”
Bowman suggested Phelps was nervous, which may strike some as odd because he’s the most decorated Olympian, with 22 medals.
“It’s not fitness, but it’s the knowledge that he’s getting up here against these guys who are on fire,” the coach said. “He knows what he’s done to get here and it ain’t what he used to do to get here.”
Phelps knows it, too.
“If I want to go 50-point then I need more — I need more training, I need more endurance, I need to feel more comfort with my stroke,” he said. “There are just a lot of things that need to happen. I understand that.”