Now that's more like it. Michael Phelps bounced back from a stunning loss with something more familiar — another world record Wednesday.
One night after he was soundly beaten by Germany's Paul Biedermann, Phelps set a world record in the 200-meter butterfly with a time of 1 minute, 51.51 seconds — more than a half-second ahead of his previous mark, 1:52.03.
Phelps whipped around quickly to see his time and held up his right index finger when the "WR" was posted. And just like Beijing, he has taken down another of Mark Spitz's standards, this time with the 34th world record of his career — one more than Spitz had during his brilliant run in the pool.
"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."
There couldn't have been a more appropriate place for Phelps to add another record to his resume. Shortly after he climbed from the pool, 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 200 freestyle.
Before the night was done, South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh broke the mark he set in the semifinals to win the 50 breaststroke and China's Zhang Lin took down Grant Hackett's four-year-old 800 free by more than six seconds, with Tunisia's Ous Mellouli also going under the old mark but only getting silver. Both are non-Olympic events.
Earlier, Germany's Daniela Samulski and Russia's Anastasia Zueva got things rolling by setting records in consecutive semifinal heats of the 50 backstroke, another event not on the Olympic program. And let's not forget American Mary Descenza, who took more than three seconds off her personal best to swim the fastest women's 200 butterfly ever — in the preliminaries, no less.
For those who've lost count, that's 22 records in Rome, hardly living up to it label as the Eternal City. Nothing is sacred in these high-tech bodysuits, which have already helped surpass the 15 records set at the last worlds in Melbourne two years ago, with four days still to go.
Phelps couldn't wait to get on the podium to collect his first individual title at the Foro Italico. While his name was being announced in English and Italian, he stood impatiently with his right foot already on the stand.
Finally, he hopped up to the highest rung, thrust both arms in the air with a defiant look that melted into a crooked smile. He was back on top.
The scene was much different than a night earlier, when Biedermann blew away Phelps in the 200 free, winning by more than a full body length and snatching away one of the American's five individual world records.
The loss — Phelps' first in an individual race at the Olympics or world championships since 2005 — was followed by coach Bob Bowman's angry tirade against the sport's governing body, which allowed polyurethane suits to be used at these championships.
FINA plans to ban all bodysuits sometime early in 2010, but Bowman said Phelps might take his goggles and go home until the rule goes into effect, believing Biedermann's Arena suit gave him a huge edge over Phelps' once-revolutionary Speedo LZR Racer because it's more buoyant.
Phelps stuck with Speedo for the fly, though he did change out of a model that stretches up to his shoulders, going with one that stretched only from waist to ankles.
"It didn't feel right in warmup," Phelps said. "I changed out of it and put this on. This is what I've always worn in this race."
"He actually warmed up with the full body and he just said it felt too tight and he took it off," Bowman said. "Then I noticed he hadn't shaved his chest, but I'm like, 'Just don't worry about it.'"
No worries, indeed. No one was even close.
"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."
Bowman knew Phelps had it when he made the last turn ahead of everyone else, no matter how hard he went out.
"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."
Actually, Bowman was confident from the moment he saw Phelps at lunch. Instead of fretting over the loss to Biedermann, he had that look the coach likes to see — and there weren't any concerns about someone having a technological edge.
"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."