- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2009

ROME | Five world records were set Monday at the world swimming championships.

No surprise there.

Aaron Peirsol failed to make the finals of 100-meter backstroke.

Now that’s a stunner.

Peirsol, the world record-holder and two-time Olympic champion in the 100-meter backstroke, was stunningly knocked out in the semifinals. He was caught off guard by the lightning-quick times that dealt another beating to the record book on the second day of the world swimming championships.

“It’s just a huge miscalculation,” said Peirsol, the three-time defending world champion in the 100 back. “I thought I was in a much better place, but if you’re looking straight up you don’t see much.”

Michael Phelps was taking no chances in his first individual event of the meet.

He breezed through the semifinals of the 200 freestyle, but looks to have quite a challenge waiting in Tuesday’s final. Germany’s Paul Biedermann, who already knocked Ian Thorpe out of the record book, was fastest qualifier with a time that was less than a second off Phelps’ world record.

“I thought Phelps would do better,” Biedermann said. “I didn’t give it my all in the last 50 meters. It’s going to be a close race.”

There’s been a staggering 11 world records set at the final major meet for high-tech bodysuits, with six more days still to go. The suits - some made of 100 percent rubber - will be banned starting in 2010, but that’s not soon enough for swimming purists who believe this Roman speed show is nothing more than a sad spectacle ruining the integrity of the sport.

Peirsol was wearing one of those newfangled suits, but it sure didn’t help. His time of 53.22 seconds was nearly a full second behind the top qualifier, Japan’s Junya Koga, and a tenth of a second out of the eighth spot, the last that advances to the final.

Peirsol lingered in the water, staring at the scoreboard in disbelief. Finally, he climbed out of the pool and walked across the deck, hands on hips and clearly disgusted. Less than three weeks earlier, he had pushed the world record to 51.94 at the U.S. nationals.

In Rome, he couldn’t even make the final. Matt Grevers was the only Americans to get through, after barely making it out of the morning prelims when his suit ripped.

“I’m going to put this one behind me and just move on, cheer for Matt and aim for the 200 [back],” Peirsol said.

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