Rome 2009 Day 3
Michael Phelps, winner of a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympic Games last year, cruised into the final of the 200m butterfly this morning before leaving the Foro Italico to get ready for a 200m freestyle final in which he faces Paul Biedermann, the German who took down the 400m freestyle world record of legendary Australian Ian Thorpe on Sunday.
"I never back down from a challenge," Phelps said after he booked his semi-final berth in the 200m butterfly in 1:54.35 behind behind Poland's Pawel Korzeniowski, the 2005 world champion when Phelps had a fallow season after winning six gold medals at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
In the 200m freestyle final tonight, Phelps, 24, enters the race as world-record holder but if Biedermann matches his gain on the clock on the way past Thorpe to victory in the 400m - 6.6sec - he will be a match for the American. The focus will then be back on suits: Phelps will wear his Speedo LZR Racer, half made of polyurethane panels, while Biedermann will wear an arena X-Glide suit that is made up of about 80% polyurethane, non-textile fabric.
The German emerged from victory in the 400m on Sunday to say that he believed that his suit had given him an advantage of at least 2secs and that he would not have got near Thorpe without the performance-enhancing apparel. He supports the move to textile-only suits in 2010, due to be confirmed by FINA, the international federation this afternoon.
In Germany today, Biedermann's performances have been called into question, with Bild Zeitung, the tabloid asking: Can this athletic explosion be explained only by a suit? Under a headline declaring "I'm also a clean athlete", Biedermann says that half of his gain is real and down to hard training and his work with coach Frank Embacher in Halle, the other if down to a suit that he hopes will be banned in 2010.
On the biggest of occasions, Phelps has not lost a major 200m freestyle race since finishing third behind Thorpe and 2000 Olympic champion Pieter van den Hoogenband, of the Netherlands, in what was dubbed "the race of the centruy" at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Phelps said he was looking forward to his latest duel an first solo final in Rome: "It's going to be good. Hopefully I'm going to get some rest today and be ready to make it a race." He refused to talk about suits that have contributed significantly to the felling, by large margins, of 11 world records in two days, and the breaking of 147 world records since the Speedo LZR was launched in February 2008.
On Biedermann's progress, Phelps said: "Usually you don't see six seconds dropped in the 400 in a year. I think he was in the final of the 200 free last year (in Beijing) and he's dropped like three seconds in that, so he's having a good meet."
Phelps's coach Bob Bowman added: "I have a feeling we're going to have some fire, At least one guy - MP - I think will bring the heat."
The battle will be reported by L'Equipe, along with everyone else, but if it produces a world record, there will be no mention of that in the French sports paper, which has refused to record a single world record set here in Rome in suits that will be banned from January 1, 2010. Why? They are meaningless because the thread of history has been severed.