ROME | When in Rome, throw out the record book.
There’s no need for one at the fastest show on water.
Even with Michael Phelps in the stands, seven more world records fell Thursday. That’s 29 in five days at the Foro Italico - and there’s still three days to go at the world championships.
At last summer’s Beijing Olympics, swimmers broke 25 records at the Water Cube, and the world thought that would be tough to beat.
Records fell so fast in Thursday’s nine events that the crowd barely had time to cheer one swimmer before another mark dropped.
“I think it’s only been two or three races that haven’t had a world record,” said Australia’s Jess Schipper, who got in on the fun by taking down the old standard in the 200-meter butterfly.
So is this a good thing?
“It’s hard to say,” Schipper said. “It’s been a very exciting meet. It’s been very fast. But we all knew it was going to be fast coming in here, so nobody can say that they didn’t expect this.”
Ryan Lochte got things rolling by breaking Phelps’ mark in the 200-meter individual medley, with the former record holder cheering him on. The Chinese women finished it with a flourish, taking down the 800 freestyle relay mark by more than two seconds in a thrilling race with the hard-charging Americans, who also broke the record but only got silver.
For the most part, the swimmers are just enjoying the ride, knowing this might be as fast as they’ll ever swim and have it count. Some of these records could stand for years - even decades - if FINA follows through on its plan to ban bodysuits in 2010 and ensure next-generation attire is made from textile fabrics instead of buoyant materials such as polyurethane.
Soaking up some rays on the sunny side of the stadium, a bare-chested Phelps joined in the celebration when Lochte touched in 1 minute, 54.10 seconds. That broke Phelps’ gold-medal time of 1:54.23.
“Everyone is complaining about all these new suits, blah blah blah - and I go out there and wear the same suit that’s been out there and I just give it to them,” Lochte said.
Lochte broke out a new set of “grills,” blinging up the medal stand and bringing a little levity to the ceremony - as he did after winning his first world title at Melbourne two years ago.
“They’re just all silver diamonds on them, but this time the diamonds, they’re a little bigger so they can shine a little bit more,” Lochte said with a grin.
Laszlo Cseh of Hungary took the silver in 1:55.24, and American Eric Shanteau captured his first major international medal with a bronze.
Shanteau competed at last year’s Olympics after being diagnosed with testicular cancer. He also posted the second-fastest time in the semifinals of the 200 breaststroke, surpassed only by - what else? - a world record, this one by Australia’s Christian Sprenger in the first heat.
In one of the most anticipated races of the night, Brazil’s Cesar Cielo became the first swimmer to break 47 seconds in the 100 freestyle and have it stand, holding off France’s Alain Bernard. Cielo won the furious down-and-back race in 46.91, beating Eamon Sullivan’s mark of 47.05 set during the semifinals of the Beijing Olympics.
Canada’s Annanmay Pierse set a standard in the women’s 200 breast during the semifinals. Her time of 2:20.12 beat Rebecca Soni’s record of 2:20.22 from Beijing.