Ryan Lochte overtook Michael Phelps on the final turn of the 200m freestyle to win one of the most highly awaited races of the world championships yesterday, reminding everyone that he’s a threat to replace his fellow American as the world’s top swimmer.
Lochte touched in one minute, 44.44 seconds, with Phelps taking the silver in 1:44.79, while defending champion Paul Biedermann of Germany — who handed Phelps a stinging defeat in this event at the last worlds in Rome two years ago — settled for bronze in 1:44.88.
Lochte also beat Phelps in the 200m individual medley and 200m backstroke at last year’s US championships, then won six golds to Phelps’ five at the Pan Pacific Championships last year — prompting Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman to acknowledge that Lochte was the best swimmer last year.
Phelps led at the 50m and 100m marks before Lochte, who was swimming in the next lane over, surged in front.
“I knew Michael wanted to go out just to clean water so I knew I had to be in striking distance and just work what I’m good at — those underwaters on each turn,” Lochte said. “It’s a big confidence boost. Hopefully this win tonight will help me carry on through my other races this week.”
After the race, Lochte hardly celebrated, then Phelps shook his hand, signaling a friendly rivalry.
Park Tae-hwan of South Korea, who won the 400m freestyle on the opening night of the eight-day meet on Sunday, was fourth.
Already energized by Lochte’s win, the near capacity crowd at the Oriental Sports Center upped the noise by a few decibels when local favorite Zhao Jing of China won the next race, the women’s 100m backstroke.
There was another US gold in the women’s 100m breaststroke, with Rebecca Soni leading from start to finish in one minute, 5.05 seconds to defend her title from two years ago. She beat Olympic champion Leisel Jones of Australia by a massive 1.2 seconds, while Ji Liping of China took bronze.
Soni had been tapped by some to break teammate Jessica Hardy’s world record of 1:04.45, but Soni swam slower than the 1:04.91 she posted in the semi-finals.
While a whopping 43 world records were set at the last worlds, no marks at all have been set in a 50m Olympic-sized pool since high-tech bodysuits were outlawed at the start of last year.
In the men’s 100m back, Camille Lacourt and Jeremy Stravius of France finished in a rare dead heat for gold, clocking 52.76 seconds before celebrating together over a lane rope. The bronze went to Ryosuke Irie of Japan.
Also, Denmark’s Lotte Friis won the women’s 1,500m freestyle — a non-Olympic event — in 15:49.59, with world record holder Kate Ziegler of the US taking the silver and Li Xuanxu of China the bronze.
In 2009, Biedermann beat Phelps by more than a second in the 200m freestyle, taking down the American’s world record in the process.
Biedermann himself acknowledged after that race that his high-tech bodysuit was partly responsible for his win and Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman threatened to keep his star swimmer out of the water until the polyurethane suits were banned.
This is the first major international meet since the return to textile suits and Lochte’s winning time was far off Biedermann’s world record of 1:42.00.
Zhao won her race in 59.05 seconds to the tune of banging drums from the Chinese team sitting in the stands.
Anastasia Zueva of Russia took the silver in 59.06 seconds and Natalie Coughlin of the US earned the bronze to raise her record total to 18 medals over five worlds.
Gemma Spofforth of Britain, the defending champion and world record holder from Britain, did not make the final after suffering a bout of food poisoning.
Defending champion Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa led the men’s 50m breast semi-finals. Phelps also had another swim, qualifying third behind Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda and China’s Chen Yin in the 200m fly semi-finals.
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