Rome 2009, Day 4:
Men's 200m butterfly final
Michael Phelps (USA) was down but is hardly out. After suffering defeat in the 200m free last night, the Olympic champion and his LZR racer leggings hit back with a 1:51.51 stunner of a world record. That took to 34 the number of world records set by the greatest Olympian of all time, one more than the legendary Mark Spitz. The count is muddied by the presence of 11 standards set in the LZR Racer suit that Phelps's coach Bob Bowman wants to be marked as having been "artificially aided" alongside the other 157 world records set since non-textile fabrics were allowed into the race pool in February 2008.
The splits compared:
The Rome race was placed two fresh entries in the all-time top 10 transformed radically in the past two years. What was second-best ever just after Melbourne 2007 would not now make the top 10.
The new all-time top 10 (with previous season best):
And what things looked like coming out of Melbourne 2007:
Two two former world record holders and Olympic champions, Tom Malchow and Denis Pankratov were still hanging on at No6 and 9 coming out of the last world championships. After the 2009 final: No 20 and 22.
In a brave swim that attacked the Beijing goggles-full-of-water standard from the go, Phelps cracked out a serious series of splits on his way to the 19th world record to fall in two and a half finals sessions in Rome. The all-time record tally had been 16, from Belgrade 1973.
The minor podium spoils went to Pawel Korzeniowski (POL) and Takeshi Matsuda (JPN), on 1:53.23 and 1:53.32. Matsuda looked for all the world as if he had won silver, but the Omega playback shows a spooky replay of the Phelps-Cavic finish in the 100m in Beijing: Matsuda reaches for the wall with a clear advantage, glides in and up to touch the pad and as he does so starts to turn his head in readiness to look at the scoreboard back down the other end of the pool just as Korzeniowski nails the perfect finish from above at greater speed and force. result, silver for Poland, bronze for Japan.
An Omega source told SwimNews that swimmers had "still not learned" that they should finish races firmly and without any thought of looking at the scoreboard if they wanted to ensure the best result. The clean, sharp finish wins every time over the soft glide. Omega memo to swimmers: nail that finish.
Phelps later said that the butterfly event was "home". It was the one in which he had set his first world record, back in 2001. The one he had set eight times now. "I said to Bob that that was the first event in which I made the Olympic team in 2000, and I've had fairly good success over the last eight years in in, so you can call it guess my bread and butter event. It's a family event too: my sister did it."
Phelps had intended to wear the full body, as he had once before for the 200m 'fly, but he switched at the last minute and wore leggings instead. "It didn't feel right in warmup," Phelps said, admitting later that he had picked up the wrong body, a new one that was too tight on his shoulders instead of the one he'd "worn in", not a phrase you hear much in relation to shiny suits of any degree of difficulty.
"I changed out of it and put this on. This is what I've always worn in this race," said Phelps.
"He actually warmed up with the full body and he just said it felt too tight and he took it off," coach Bob Bowman said. "Then I noticed he hadn't shaved his chest, but I'm like, 'Just don't worry about it.'"
After the race, Phelps admitted to feeling the biting sting of fatigue down the last length. He repeated Bowman's immediate words to him: "He said 'I could tell from the first stroke of the last length that you were hurting'."
Phelps had planned the race as it panned out, saying: "I said to Bob beforehand, 'I'm going to go for the 150 and whatever happens, happens. I'm going to try to hang on the last 50,'" Phelps said. "I was able to."
"He swam a really fast first 150 and he paid for it a little on the last lap," the coach said. "I'm sure he'll be tired, but I knew nobody was getting by him. That's how he is."
In fact, Bowman was confident from the moment he saw Phelps at lunch. Instead of fretting over the loss to Biedermann, he had that look Bob watches for.
"I just felt like he was really relaxed tonight," Bowman said. "I saw him at lunchtime and he was in really good spirits. You can always tell when something like this is kind of going to happen. He was definitely there tonight."
Asked if the 200m free final had played a part in his follow-up or had he been able to set defeat aside, Phelps said: "I've always been able to, I've always had to, put the races behind me as they happen. With me having to do so many events, I can't get hung up on one race. It was disappointing that I didn't win but, hey, I had to come back and do another event. I knew I had to be ready. I wanted to step up in first 100 and get into open water."
He did just that, but there will be no open water in the 100m to come. "It's going to be a good one," said Phelps looking forward to a battle he will enter as a LZR world-record holder up against a line-up of 100% poly rivals. "Getting trhrough the semi-final is a big one for me 'cos its right before the 800 free relay. That is something I have to look to." he will have a full day's rest tomorrow and felt he needed it: "I'll try to get as much sleep as I can. I didn't feel as I should have today. I've got to psyche myself up to be close or close enough for a shot to win."
Asked why he even bothered to come to Rome to race in what was intended to be a fallow-ish type of year, Phelps laughed and said: "I did it for my mum - she wanted to come to Rome. I said 'I'll just sent you to Rome, send you over there and have a nice vacation', but she said 'I want to see you swim'. When I got back in I decided to make it a goal for me to make the team [for Rome]. It became something I wanted to do."
But was he not setting himself up for failure, asks a reporter from perhaps the only country - the US - that could ever even contemplate putting such a question to the winner of 14 Olympic gold medals who had stared possible loss and win in the face without blinking myriad times before.
"The only thing that I can really say to that is that I have goals that I want to accomplish. In 2004, some people said that was a failure [200 free, bronze, Athens Olympics] but it wasn't. If I'm satisfied, that's all that matters. If I had gone that time today but wouldn't have won I would have been unhappy to lose but happy to get that time."
After Rome he would take two weeks break, "plus a couple of days if I can stretch to that", before returning to a season in which he will train, train, train and compete only in domestic waters for a while. He intends to crank out some fast short-course yards times as a fresh challenge. "Just local meets in Baltimore," he confirmed, and there would be a Christmas meet, around the second week in December. Nothing too taxing, nothing , perhaps, to compare with the European s/c championships to come, which must now take place for a second time with all the bodysuit chaos on show in Rome because of FINA's appeasement of suit makers. Woeful.