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SWIMMING

Swimming records falling fast at World Championships

In two days at the international swim meet in Rome, 11 world records have been broken. USC's Rebecca Soni is one of two Americans who set records today.

July 28, 2009|Lisa Dillman

ROME — Foes used to be easily identifiable for Michael Phelps.

Keeping up with the Ians: Thorpes and Crockers were one thing. But keeping up with the Biedermanns?

Welcome to a swimming world seemingly gone mad at the world championships, with 11 records in the first two days, including five more Monday night. The new world order also featured a shock result: No Aaron Peirsol in the final of the 100 backstroke.

Two of the latest world records were by Americans, Rebecca Soni and Ariana Kukors. Soni, of USC's Trojan Swim Club, went 1 minute 4.84 seconds in the semifinals of the 100-meter breaststroke, and Kukors won the 200 individual medley in 2:06.15, beating Olympic champion Stephanie Rice of Australia.

Kukors, who broke the world record she set Sunday in the semifinals, didn't even qualify for the event at the recent U.S. nationals, placing third at Indianapolis. She only got into the event at worlds when teammate Elizabeth Pelton withdrew because of a schedule conflict.

Pelton's decision didn't work out as she failed to make the finals of the 100 backstroke. The 15-year-old went slower in the semifinals than she did in the morning prelims.

Then again, things seem almost upside down in swimming, which has veered way off the grid the last two days.

Three men went under the existing world record in the 100 breaststroke. Two women were under the old world record in the 100 backstroke, and for the kicker, two-time Olympic champion and world-record holder Peirsol did not make the final in the 100 backstroke, placing ninth in 53.22.

"It was just a huge miscalculation," the Orange County-reared Peirsol said. "I thought I was in a much better place in that race than I was. I just completely thought I was in a place I wasn't in."

His semifinal was slower than his morning heat time (53.08) and eons off his world-record 51.94, set earlier this month at the nationals. The backstroke king had a rare bad race at the international level.

"In the backstroke, you are looking straight up," he said. "You don't see much. So you really have to go by feel. . . . It is what it is.

Peirsol's misstep served as a reminder that it simply isn't possible to keep much in reserve. Not with the fast swimming by old foes -- and new ones.

"You really have to be ready to race," Phelps said. "People are swimming really fast right now. People that you really didn't know would swim this fast.

"The biggest thing is you have to swim your own race. You can't worry about what anyone else is doing."

Phelps undercut those words a few seconds later when the second semifinal of the 200 freestyle was concluding. His mood changed when he looked at the monitor and learned Paul Biedermann of Germany went 1:43.65, 1.58 seconds better than Phelps.

When Phelps, who had the third-fastest time, resumed his interview in the mixed zone, he seemed agitated and didn't like yet another question about the controversial high-tech swimsuits.

Biedermann also broke a huge barrier Sunday, erasing Ian Thorpe's record in the 400 freestyle. Suddenly Biedermann and his high-tech suit are a concern.

"What did he go? 1:43?" Phelps asked. "He's dropped a lot of time. Usually you don't see six seconds dropped in a 400 in a year.

"I think he was in the final last year in the 200 free and he's dropped about three seconds in the last year over that. He's having a good meet, having a good year. It's going to be a good race."

Biedermann is wearing a swimsuit made by the Italian company Arena. After breaking Thorpe's record he sounded almost apologetic about the impact of the suit but added that the Germans had to wear Adidas at the Olympics last year, saying: "It wasn't great for us. Other nations laughed at us."

Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, was asked about the possibility of a loss in the 200 final. After the Peirsol result and unexpected world records, almost anything seems possible in Rome.

"If Michael is at his best, he'll probably win," Bowman said.

"But he has to be at his best, there's no leeway. . . . I don't know if he'll win or lose tomorrow but you will see him lay it on the line."

Phelps and the victorious 400 freestyle relay on Sunday did not give the U.S. men the expected boost. Bowman, the U.S. men's coach here, talked about its early woes.

"The men are hurting right now," he said.

"We need to get going. We, as a team, have had a lot of fourth places that need to be medals. That's not due to the suits. We need to step up."

Not everything can be blamed on FINA and the suits, but two-time Olympic silver medalist Markus Rogan of Austria gave it his best shot.

"I think FINA is proving its incompetence at a dramatic and fantastic level," Rogan said. "They're showing they're completely incompetent in terms of management. It's like they decided to play soccer one year with a rugby ball and then with a soccer ball."

FINA, the international governing body of swimming, will be banning the controversial high-tech suits. But not until 2010.

"I'm not criticizing the suits," Rogan said. "I'm criticizing FINA.

"I really am in favor of the suits. Because we're the most popular boring sport in the world. So we need and only survive on records."

--

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

--

(BEGINNING TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Clocking in

World records set Monday at the World Swimming Championships in Rome:

MEN

Rickard Brenton, Australia: 100 breaststroke final, 58.58.

WOMEN

Anastasia Zueva, Russia: 100 backstroke semifinal, 58.48.

Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden: 100 butterfly final, 56.06.

Ariana Kukors, United States: 200 individual medley final, 2:06.15.

Rebecca Soni, United States: 100 breaststroke semifinal, 1:04.84.

MEET TOTALS

Men: Two.

Women: Nine.

-- Lisa Dillman

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