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German swimmer beats Phelps, takes his record

July 28, 2009

ROME (AP) -- The winner draped himself triumphantly on the lane rope, thrusting his right hand in the air to celebrate a world record.

It's a familiar scene for Michael Phelps. This time, all he could do was watch.

Germany's Paul Biedermann handed Phelps his first major individual loss in four years -- and snatched away his world record, too -- with a stunning win in the 200-meter freestyle at the world swimming championships on Tuesday.

Virtually unknown outside his country before this meet, Biedermann has erased Ian Thorpe from the record book in the 400 free and knocked off the winningest Olympian in history -- all in the space of three days.

"I'm not pleased," Phelps said, acknowledging he wasn't in the best shape after taking six months off to revel in his great haul of China.

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But Biedermann's performance stirred up even more debate about the high-tech bodysuits that are being banned by the sport's governing body beginning in 2010. Biedermann wore an Arena X-Glide, one of those polyurethane suits that is generally considered faster than the Speedo LZR Racer, the once-revolutionary suit Phelps wore.

When the suit mess gets all sorts out, Phelps can't wait for the rematch -- on what he considers equal terms.

"It's going to be fun next year," he said, "when swimming is back to swimming."

Biedermann relished his win but acknowledged that he had a technological edge.

"The suits make a difference," the 22-year-old German said. "I hope there will be a time when I can beat Michael Phelps without these suits. I hope next year. I hope it's really soon."

Biedermann's upset launched another night of record breaking at the world championships. Four more world standards were bumped from the books, bringing the total to 15 through the first three days of an eight-day meet. That equals the number of records set at the last worlds in Melbourne two years ago, and will soon go right on past the staggering 25 worlds marks set last summer at the Olympics.

Britain's Gemma Spofforth went the fastest ever to win the 100 backstroke; Italy's Federica Pellegrini fired up the home crowd with her second world record of the championships in a semifinal heat of the 200 free; and South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh posted his own mark in the semis of the 50 breaststroke, a non-Olympic event.

But Biedermann's win -- and Phelps' loss -- stood out on a warm summer night at the Foro Italico.

Biedermann said after his 400 free win that the suit made him two seconds faster, but Phelps passed on the chance to wear one of the latest-generation suits. He's been sponsored by Speedo since he was a teenager and wasn't about to abandon the company that paid him a $1 million bonus after he won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

Shortly before the race, FINA confirmed that a ban on bodysuits will go into effect by May 2010, making this the last major competition where buoyancy aiding suits are allowed.

"It's not my problem," Biedermann said. "It's the problem of FINA. They should handle it really fast."

They'd better if they want Phelps around. His coach, Bob Bowman, said he might just withhold the sport's star attraction from any meets until the new rules are implemented.

"We've lost all the history of the sport," Bowman said. "Does a 10-year-old boy in Baltimore want to break Paul Biedermann's record? Is that going to make him join swimming?"

When told of FINA's timetable for bringing back suits that cover less skin and go back to being made out of textile materials, Bowman scoffed.

"Well, then probably expect Michael not to swim until they are implemented. I'm done with this. It has to be implemented immediately," the coach said. "The sport is in shambles right now and they better do something or they're going to lose their guy who fills these suits."

Phelps was ahead off the blocks, but Biedermann surged into the lead by the first flip and steadily extended his advantage. By the finish, he was a full body-length ahead of Phelps.

"Biedermann just took off," Phelps said. "He took it to a new level in that race."

While Biedermann celebrated his time of 1 minute, 42.00 seconds, which knocked off Phelps' world mark of 1:42.96 from the Beijing Olympics, the American stared at the scoreboard for a few seconds, then headed toward the side of the pool without acknowledging the swimmer who had just handed him his first big individual loss since July 30, 2005, at the world championships in Montreal.

That night, Ian Crocker beat Phelps in the 100 butterfly. Bouncing back from that disappointment, Phelps went 5-for-5 in his individual events at the 2007 worlds in Melbourne, then duplicated the feat at Beijing, where three relay wins gave him an iconic sporting achievement.

"Theoretically, that was a pretty good swim for me, three-tenths off my best time after taking six months off," said Phelps, referring to his layoff after the Olympics. "I mean, I'm not happy, but I mean I know I didn't train much this year. For right now, I'll take it."

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