ROME, July 29 – Michael Phelps's run of global invincibility ended on Tuesday as Germany's Paul Biedermann seized the 200m freestyle world title and world record from the US Olympic superstar.
Biedermann handed Phelps his first individual defeat in world and Olympic competition since 2005, triumphing in 1min 42.00sec.
"It’s amazing to beat Michael Phelps," said Biedermann, who broke the world record of 1:42.96 Phelps set in winning gold at the Beijing Games.
"I was there in Beijing when he won his eight gold medals and it was a great moment for me to live this moment," Biedermann said. "Now that I’m faster than him, it was a dream for me and I feel absolutely great about this."
Phelps settled for silver in 1:43.22, with Hungary’s Danila Izotov third in 1:43.90.
The American got off the blocks quickest, but Biedermann had seized the lead by the first turn and never gave it back. He touched the final wall nearly a body length in front of Phelps.
"It was a really amazing race, I spoke to my trainer before and he said Michael beats you on the start and the turns so the only way to beat him is in swimming, and I think I did it really well," Biedermann said.
Phelps, whose eight gold medals in Beijing were an Olympic record, and took his career tally to 14, hadn’t been beaten in individual world or Olympic competition since losing to Ian Crocker in the 100m fly final at the 2005 Worlds in Montreal.
He was 10-for-10 since then, winning five individual events at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne and five in Beijing.
Phelps, who took six months off after the Beijing Games, the longest break of his competitive career, tried to be philosophical, but it was clear the defeat stung.
"Theoretically that was a pretty good swim for me," the 24-year-old said. "Three-tenths off my best time after taking six months off.
"I’m not happy, but I know I didn’t train much this year. For right now I’ll take it – but I’m not pleased."
Biedermann’s performance followed his 400m freestyle triumph, in which he erased the iconic world record set by Australian Ian Thorpe in 2002.
The German acknowledged after that race that he believed his high-tech bodysuit made a difference of some two seconds for him in the 400m free.
Phelps wore a waist-to-legs version of the Speedo LZR, last year’s groundbreaking suit that has been overtaken by new technology.
But Biedermann insisted it wasn’t just about the controversial suits – which are to be banned next year.
"Yes, it makes me faster of course but what can I do?" he said. "The suit is one thing."
He said Thorpe had contacted him since Sunday and told him "It wasn’t only the suit, it was you."
"This gave me the power to swim again and I’m really thankful to Ian Thorpe that he gave this message to me," Biedermann said.
Phelps didn’t have time to dwell on the defeat as he returned to the water for the semi-finals of the 200m butterfly and notched the second-fastest time heading into Wednesday’s final behind Japan’s Olympic bronze medallist Takeshi Matsuda.
Biedermann’s was the first of four world records on Tuesday, taking the total from three days of swimming to 15.
Britain’s Gemma Spofforth won the women’s 100m backstroke title in a world record 58.12. Russian Anastasia Zueva had set the previous record of 54.48 in the semi-finals on Monday, but her 58.18 was only good enough for silver. Australia’s Emily Seebohm was third in 58.88.
Italian fans were treated to a home world record and a world title – from two different swimmers.
Alessia Filippi captured the women’s 1,500m freestyle title in 15:44.93, ahead of Denmark’s Lotte Friis and Romanian Camelia Potec.
Federica Pellegrini lowered her own world record in the 200m free with a time of 1:53.67 in the semi-finals, and South Africa’s Cameron Van Der Burgh clocked a world record of 26.74sec in the men’s 50m breaststroke semi-finals.
Junya Koga won the men’s 100m backstroke in 52.26sec. Germany’s Helge Meeuw, sixth at the turn, rallied to take silver in 52.54 and former world record-holder Aschwin Wildeboer of Spain was third in 52.64.
American Rebecca Soni, who set a world record in the 100m breaststroke semis on Monday couldn’t repeat the feat, but she captured the world title in 1:04.93.