Multiple Olympic champion Michael Phelps suffered his first defeat in international competition for four years when Paul Biedermann convincingly beat him in the 200 meters freestyle final at the world swimming championships in Rome.
Phelps, who has won 14 Olympic gold medals in his glittering career, last failed to get gold when he was edged out by fellow-American Ian Crocker in the 100m butterfly at the worlds in Montreal. Phelps had not been beaten in the 200m freestyle since the Athens Olympics in 2004 — but German Biedermann produced an astonishing swim to triumph by a body length and also set a new world record of one minute 42.00 seconds. Biedermann has now claimed two gold medals and consigned two previously untouchable world records to history at the Foro Italico. On Sunday, he brought down Ian Thorpe’s iconic 400m freestyle mark before following it up on Tuesday. Biedermann has clearly benefited from wearing the Arena X-Glide swimsuit while Phelps has remained in his Speedo LZR, a suit that was revolutionary last year but has now been overtaken by the all-polyurethane suits. In fact, the only speedo-wearing world champion this week has been British woman Gemma Spofforth in the 100m backstroke.
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With world records tumbling in nearly every event, FINA, world swimming’s governing body, are supporting a return to the textile suits, although that decision may by delayed until April or May next year. Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, has recommended the swimmer does not compete internationally until the issue is fully resolved and Phelps himself told reporters: “I look forward to racing Biedermann next summer — It will be fun when swimming gets back to swimming.” However, Phelps added: “I have not been beaten by the swimsuit but by a great athlete — but a solution needs to be found to the issue of swimsuits as this is not swimming any more. “Technology has to go forward but I am looking forward to the time when we can go back to pure swimming. “I will start working as soon as I can and I am confident that I will be in my best shape for the next major competitions, particularly for London 2012.” Biedermann’s mark was one of four world records which fell on Tuesday. Spofforth set a new mark of 58.12 ahead of Anastasia Zueva of Russia and Australia’s Emily Seebohm.
Federica Pellegrini set her second mark of the championships so far when she lowered her own 200m freestyle world record to 1:53.67 in the semis. Cameron Van Der Burgh dipped 0.15 inside Franca Da Silva’s three-month-old mark in the 50m breaststroke final in 26.74 ahead of Germany’s Hendrick Feldwehr with Silva in fourth.