Milorad Cavic is tired of hearing about Michael Phelps having to compete in a supposedly inferior swimsuit. The Serb even offered to buy his American rival one of the latest models if that's what it takes to even the playing field for their rematch in the 100-meter butterfly.
Cavic's comments, coming after both swimmers easily advanced in Friday morning preliminaries, sets up a tantalizing rematch of their memorable race at the Beijing Olympics, which Phelps won by a hundredth of a second on his way to capturing a record eight gold medals.
Cavic, who wears the Arena X-Glide, said the perception that Phelps has no choice except to stick with the Speedo LZR Racer because of sponsorship commitments is "a complete lie."
"I know he's making a lot of money from Speedo," Cavic said. "It's loyalty. But throughout all my experiences, I've learned this _ free will is a gift with a price tag, and whatever you choose to do you're going to pay, but how much you're going to pay is really dependent on you."
Cavic said Arena would provide Phelps one of its polyurethane suits "within the hour." The X-Glide and a similar suit by Jaked are considered fastest at these championships, where a staggering 29 world records were set through the first five days.
Phelps hustled through the mixed zone without stopping to speak to reporters. His coach, Bob Bowman, shrugged off Cavic's comments.
"He's a very good swimmer, a super-talented swimmer and he's free to say whatever he wants," Bowman said. "We know that Michael usually lets his swimming do his talking, and we'll know by (Saturday) night what the deal is."
Speedo allowed its athletes to switch to another suit if they thought it would improve their chances in Rome. But Phelps, who has been sponsored by Speedo since he was a teenager and earns millions from the company, decided to stick with the LZR.
"If Mike wants an Arena, he just has to say it," Cavic said. "If he wants a Jaked and they don't want to give it to him free, I'll buy it for him. He has options. I think in the media it's been portrayed that he has no option, he has to swim for (Speedo). It's a complete lie."
Cavic still thinks he won the 100 fly at the Olympics, even though both timing devices and high-resolution photographs appear to show conclusively that Phelps touched first. Cavic rekindled the issue this week, insisting that he was ahead at the wall but didn't put enough pressure on the timing touchpad, so it recorded Phelps as the winner.
The Serb has been yearning for a rematch ever since Beijing, and he doesn't want the suits to overshadow what happens in the water.
"I think there's three options for Michael," Cavic said. "The first option is to use the suit that he's wearing, the second option is to get one of these (polyurethane) suits, which I guarantee Arena will provide him within the hour, as soon as he wants. The third option would actually be a dream of mine, to have the whole final everybody swimming in briefs. I swear to God, this is it, this is what I want, but this is the most unrealistic of all scenarios."
At the U.S. nationals in early July, Phelps lowered the world record in the 100 fly to 50.22 seconds. But nearly everyone believes it will take the first sub-50 performance in history to have any chance of winning gold in Rome.
Cavic was fastest in morning prelims with a time of 50.56. Phelps won his heat with one of his patented late charges and tied for second overall with teammate Tyler McGill at 50.90.
Bowman was livid after his swimmer was beaten by Germany's Paul Biedermann in the 200 freestyle, saying the X-Glide gave the winner a huge technological edge. Bowman even threatened to pull Phelps from future international meets unless FINA speeds up its ban on all bodysuits, which goes into effect next year.
Cavic found Bowman's comments a bit hypocritical, especially since the whole swimsuit debate started with the introduction of the LZR Racer in early 2008, which led American team leader Mark Schubert to declare that anyone who wanted to win gold at the Olympics should switch to Speedo _ even if they had a deal with another company.
At these world championships, Schubert led the fight to get bodysuits banned, a measure approved by the FINA congress just before the start of the swimming competition.
"Last year at the height of the suit controversy, Mark Schubert said, 'Do you want the money or do you want the win?'" Cavic said. "Michael Phelps has plenty of money. Who knows what it is? I think it's just loyalty and he's very gracious for everything Speedo has done for him."
Coming off his emotional win in the 100 freestyle, Brazil's Cesar Cielo was top qualifier in preliminaries of the 50 free at 21.37. All of the big names got through, including Schoeman, world-record holder Fred Bousquet of France and Americans Nathan Adrian and Cullen Jones.
World-record holder Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe paced the 200 backstroke prelims with a meet record of 2:06.72, followed by Britain's Gemma Spofforth and Elizabeth Beisel of the U.S. Another American, 15-year-old Elizabeth Pelton, moved on in seventh.
Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Adlington led the way in the grueling 800 free at 8:20.53, just 27-hundredths ahead of teammate Joanne Jackson. Americans Chloe Sutton and Haley Anderson failed to advance to the eight-woman final.
The U.S. team of Ricky Berens, Daniel Madwed, Davis Tarwater and Peter Vanderkaay was quickest in the 800 free relay. Phelps will swim in the evening final.
There was a bit of a stunner in the morning. Forty-two-year-old American Dara Torres and Australian star Libby Trickett failed to advance in the preliminaries of the 50 butterfly. They tied for 17th at 26.41 _ one spot out of making the evening semifinals.
"Horrrrrible!" Torres, who still has the 50 free, wrote on Twitter. "(Probably) worst race since my comeback."
"It was so fast here," Trickett said. "I'm pretty sure my time would have made a final in 2007."
With 29 worlds records and three days of competition still remaining, these championships are put up truly staggering numbers by the closing ceremony Sunday night. Of course, they will also be tainted by the perception that this was more about the suits than the swimmers.
Olympic great Janet Evans told The Associated Press that the debate over swimsuits was threatening to "make a mockery of the sport." Mark Spitz, the winner of seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, was so amused by the whole situation that he released a statement to the AP saying he planned to come out of retirement at age 59.
"The suits that are breaking world records are so good that today I am announcing my comeback, effective immediately and ending on Dec. 31, 2009," Spitz said, all in jest.
Seven more records fell on Thursday, pushing the Rome championships past the 25 world marks set at the Beijing Olympics. Fifteen records were established at the last worlds in Melbourne two years ago.
"It's been a very exciting meet. It's been very fast," said Australia's Jess Schipper, one of those getting in on the record-breaking fun. "But we all knew it was going to be fast coming in here, so nobody can say that they didn't expect this. I think that the world records, while they may have been helped with the suits, it still has a lot to do with the swimmer and the work you've put in."
When in Rome, throw out the record book.