ROME: Michael Phelps has four more chances to win gold at the World Swimming Championships.
He's not likely to be satisfied until he gets another shot at Paul Biedermann.
In different suits, that is.
The unheralded German glided across the water, steadily pulling away from the most successful Olympian ever, and handed Phelps a stunning loss in the 200m freestyle on Tuesday - his first defeat in a major individual race since 2005.
No sooner had they climbed from the water, the debate was on.
Was it the man? Or was it the suit?
Biedermann acknowledged that he had an edge in his Arena X-Glide, a polyurethane suit that has surpassed the Speedo LZR Racer worn by Phelps. All those suits are on the way out, to be banned by the sport's governing body starting in 2010. But for now, it's perfectly legal.
Biedermann is the world champion.
"The suits make a difference," he said. "I hope there will be a time when I can beat Michael Phelps without these suits. I hope next year. I hope it's really soon."
Phelps can't wait.
"It's going to be fun next year," he said, "when swimming is back to swimming."
But there's still work to do at these unlike-any-other championships, where 15 world records fell through the first three days of an eight-day meet - matching the total from the last worlds and closing in on the 25 marks set at the Beijing Olympics.
Phelps was scheduled to swim on Wednesday in the final of the 200 butterfly. He's also got the 100 fly and a couple of relays left, all of which look like solid chances for gold. But he's always stewed more over the rare losses than savored the frequent wins.
"Theoretically, that was a pretty good swim for me, three-tenths off my best time after taking six months off," said Phelps, referring to his layoff after winning a record eight gold medals at the Olympics. "I mean, I'm not happy, but I mean I know I didn't train much this year. For right now, I'll take it.
"But I'm not pleased."
Neither is coach Bob Bowman, but not with anything his swimmer did. He criticized FINA for allowing swimsuit technology to get out of hand - a race for speed that, interestingly enough, actually started in Feb 2008 when Speedo introduced the LZR, the very suit Phelps is paid a great deal of money to endorse.
The very suit that now looks slow alongside fully rubberized suits such as the X-Glide and Jaked.
At the risk of sounding hypocritical, Bowman ranted that he may just pull Phelps from any more international meets until FINA follows through on banning these suits. As it stands, the governing body is pointing toward having new rules in place by May 2010, when male swimmers will be able to wear only waist-to-knee suits (known as jammers) made from textile fabrics.
"We've lost all the history of the sport. Does a 10-year-old boy in Baltimore want to break Paul Biedermann's record?" Bowman said. "The sport is in shambles right now and they better do something or they're going to lose their guy who fills these seats."
In the space of three days, the 22-year-old Biedermann wiped Ian Thorpe's name out of the record book in the 400 free, then he took down Phelps with a time of 1 minute, 42.00 seconds, also snatching away the world record that had stood since the American won gold at Beijing in 1:42.96.
"Biedermann just took off," said Phelps, who was a full body-length behind at the end. "He took it to a new level in that race."
Phelps sure looked out of place on the medal podium.
After bending over to accept a medal he wanted no part of, then listening to another swimmer's national anthem, Phelps tried to make his getaway. Not so fast - there were still pictures to take.
So he straggled back to the top step of the stand, the spot he knows so well. This time, it was already occupied.
Finally, Phelps climbed toward the stands to drop off a stuffed mascot with his mother, Debbie, who leaned over to give him a consoling hug. Before her son even left the pool deck, he pulled off his silver medal, as if he wanted no part of a consolation prize.Source:China Daily/Agency