- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2009

ROME | Michael Phelps had another swimsuit issue.

It didn’t slow him down this time.

Phelps bounced back from a stunning loss with something more familiar - a world record in the 200-meter butterfly Wednesday. In doing so, he surpassed another of Mark Spitz’s accomplishments with the 34th world record of his career, one more than Spitz had during his brilliant run in the pool.

One night after he was soundly beaten by Germany’s Paul Biedermann, Phelps sliced the time in what he calls his “bread and butter” to 1 minute, 51.51 seconds, more than a half-second lower than his gold medal-winning time of 1:52.03 at the Beijing Olympics.

With all the hullabaloo over swimsuits, everyone wondered about Phelps’ decision to wear one that stretched only from his waist to his ankles, leaving his upper body bare. Was he trying to make a fashion statement?

“No, that didn’t even cross my mind,” Phelps said. “It was just me being comfortable.”

Actually, he had planned to wear a Speedo bodysuit, only to discover during warmups the one he brought to the Foro Italico was too tight in the shoulders. So he went back to the legsuit, which he prefers in the fly anyway.

“He actually warmed up with the full body, and he just said it felt too tight and he took it off,” Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman said. “Then I noticed he hadn’t shaved his chest, but I’m like, ‘Don’t worry about it. I don’t think you have much hair.’ ”

Phelps went out much faster than he normally does in the fly and paid for it on the final push to the wall. His arms were burning. His legs, too. But there was no way he was losing again.

He surged to the wall a body length ahead of silver medalist Pawel Korzeniokski of Poland, with Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda settling for bronze. Phelps whipped around quickly to see his time and held up his right index finger when the “WR” was posted.

“I wanted to step on it in the first 100 to get out there in the clean water, and that’s pretty much what happened,” Phelps said. “It was a lot more pain last night than tonight.”

On Tuesday, he was blown out of the water by Biedermann, who routed Phelps in the 200 freestyle and also snatched away his world record.

Most of the talk afterward was about what they were wearing - and there wasn’t a red carpet in sight. Biedermann was in a polyurethane Arena X-Glide suit, which everyone concedes produces much faster times than Phelps’ year-old Speedo LZR Racer.

Bowman threatened to pull his star from all future international events unless FINA speeds up its timetable for banning bodysuits. The governing body had mandated that male swimmers go back to wearing waist-to-knee “jammers” made from textile materials, but says the new rules may not be fully implemented until May.

There couldn’t have been a more appropriate place for Phelps to add another record to his resume. Shortly after he climbed from the pool, Italy’s Federica Pellegrini sent the home crowd into a frenzy when she set the 20th world mark of the four-day-old meet in the 200 freestyle.

With no disrespect to Phelps, Biedermann and Pellegrini have been the stars of these worlds. Biedermann dispatched Ian Thorpe from the record book in the 400 free before knocking off Phelps. Pellegrini thrilled the home folks with her second win and third world record.

“I feel that my heart is for Italy,” she said after clapping along with the crowd during her country’s bouncy national anthem, “Fratelli d’Italia” (Brothers of Italy).

Before the night was done, South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh broke the mark he set in the semifinals to win the 50 breaststroke, and China’s Zhang Lin took down Grant Hackett’s four-year-old record in the 800 free by more than six seconds (7:32.12), with Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli also going under the old mark but only getting silver. Both are non-Olympic events.

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