Michael Phelps had another swimsuit issue. It didn’t slow him down this time.
Phelps bounced back from a stunning loss with something more familiar — a world record in the 200m butterfly on Wednesday.
For good measure, he surpassed another of Mark Spitz’s accomplishments with the 34th world record of his career, one more than Spitz had during his brilliant run in the pool.
One night after he was soundly beaten by Germany’s Paul Biedermann, Phelps sliced the time in what he calls his “bread and butter” to 1 minute, 51.51 seconds, more than a half-second lower than his gold medal-winning time of 1:52.03 at the Beijing Olympics.
With all the hullabaloo over swimsuits, everyone wondered about Phelps’ decision to wear one that stretched only from his waist to his ankles, leaving his upper body bare. Was he trying to make a fashion statement?
“No, that didn’t even cross my mind,” Phelps said. “It was just me being comfortable.”
Actually, he had planned to wear a Speedo bodysuit, only to discover during warmups the one he brought to the Foro Italico was too tight in the shoulders. So he went back to the legsuit, which he prefers in the fly anyway.
“He actually warmed up with the full body and he just said it felt too tight and he took it off,” Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, said. “Then I noticed he hadn’t shaved his chest, but I’m like, ‘Don’t worry about it. I don’t think you have much hair.’”
Phelps went out much faster than he normally does in the fly, and paid for it on the final push to the wall. His arms were burning.
His legs, too. But there was no way he was losing again.
He surged to the wall a body length ahead of silver medalist Pawel Korzeniokski of Poland, with Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda settling for bronze. Phelps whipped around quickly to see his time and held up his right index finger when the “WR” was posted.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 29
Women’s 50m backstroke
Chen Ting placed 69/132
time: 30.63 (eliminated)
Men’s 100m freestyle
Tsung Chao-lin placed 158/202
time: 55.40 (eliminated)
Women’s 200m butterfly
Ting Sheng-yo placed 44/57
time: 2:21.05 (eliminated)
Yang Chin-kuei placed 29/57
time: 2:12.90 (eliminated)
Men’s 200m individual medley
Chien Jui-ting placed 60/95
time: 2:08.87 (eliminated)
Pan Kai-wen placed 70/95
time: 2:11.35 (eliminated)
“I wanted to step on it in the first 100 to get out there in the clean water, and that’s pretty much what happened,” Phelps said. “It was a lot more pain last night than tonight.”
On Tuesday, he was blown out of the water by Germany’s Paul Biedermann, who routed Phelps in the 200 freestyle and also snatched away his world record.
Most of the talk afterward was about what they were wearing. Biedermann was in a polyurethane Arena X-Glide suit, which everyone concedes produces much faster times than Phelps’ year-old Speedo LZR Racer.
What helped Phelps get over that disappointment was returning to his one reliable race, the 200 fly. That event produced his first trip to the Olympics in 2000 (he finished fifth at Sydney as a 15-year-old). That event produced the first of all those world records in 2001.
“I’ve always done well in it,” he said. “I guess you can call it my bread and butter event.”
Italy’s Federica Pellegrini sent the home crowd into a frenzy when she set the 20th world mark of the four-day-old meet in the 200m freestyle.
Pellegrini, 20, said she was the greatest Italian athlete ever after setting her 10th world record.
She clocked one minute, 52.98 seconds in winning the 200m, breaking her own world record. She also was the first woman to break four minutes in the 400m when she won in 3:59.15 on Sunday.
“Without any false modesty, I didn’t think there were any doubts about that as of a few world records ago. There you have it,” Pellegrini, who won the Olympic 200 last year, said when asked if she was the greatest Italian athlete.