- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 2, 2009

ROME | He defiantly spit out a mouthful of water, climbed atop the lane rope, pumped his fists furiously and tugged on that supposedly inferior swimsuit.

The message was clear: Don’t mess with Michael Phelps.

Milorad Cavic tried to get in his head and wound up looking at his back, losing again to the guy who beat him at the Beijing Olympics. This time, there was no doubt about it.

“There are always things that fire me up and motivate me,” Phelps said Saturday after becoming the first swimmer to break 50 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly. “That’s just how I tick.”

He stayed close in the outward lap and rallied on the return to beat Cavic with a stunning time of 49.82 at the world championships. Cavic also broke 50 seconds, but 49.95 only got him a silver — and plenty of words to eat.

He wasn’t nearly as close as at the Beijing Olympics, when Phelps won by one-hundredth of a second on the way to eight gold medals — over Cavic’s objections that he actually touched first.

“That satisfied me a little bit,” Phelps quipped with a crooked grin. “I set it up perfectly.”

His reaction was nearly as memorable. Phelps hopped on the rope that had separated him from Cavic — eyes searing, jaw jutting out. He pulled at both sides of his skintight LZR Racer swimsuit, letting his rival know that he heard about his offer to get Phelps one of those faster polyurethane suits so he wouldn’t have any excuses if he lost in a Speedo.

No need, Milorad. Phelps did just fine with his own attire.

“I’ve never seen him that emotional,” said Bob Bowman, Phelps’ coach.

The two rivals finally shook hands, but that was about it. Nothing more needed to be said.

“He congratulated me and kind of smiled a bit, but I have a feeling that our battle is going to go back and forth for a while,” Phelps said.

Cavic did say one thing to Phelps: “You’re the man.”

“He just looked at me and smiled,” Cavic said. “He knows it.”

Three other world records were set Saturday, bringing the total to 39 with one day left at the final meet for high-tech bodysuits that have everything but a motor attached to them.

Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe took down her own mark in the 200 backstroke, winning in 2 minutes, 4.81 seconds.

China claimed the record in the women’s 400-meter medley relay. Li Zhesi finished it off in 3:52.19 to beat the mark set by Australia (3:52.69) at the Beijing Olympics.

In a semifinal heat of a non-Olympic event, Britain’s Liam Tancock set a world record of 24.08 in the 50 backstroke, eclipsing the mark of 24.33 held by American Randall Bal.

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