The winner draped himself triumphantly on the lane rope, thrusting his right hand in the air to celebrate a world record.
ROME — The winner draped himself triumphantly on the lane rope, thrusting his right hand in the air to celebrate a world record.
It's a familiar scene for Michael Phelps. This time, all he could do was watch.
Germany's Paul Biedermann handed Phelps his first major individual loss in four years — and snatched away his world record, too — with a stunning win in the 200-meter freestyle at the world swimming championships today.
Virtually unknown outside his country before this meet, Biedermann has now erased Ian Thorpe from the record book with a win in the 400 free and knocked off the winningest Olympian in history — all in the space of three days.
Both triumphs are sure to stir even more debate about the high-tech bodysuits that are being banned by the sport's governing body beginning in 2010. Biedermann wore an Arena X-Glide, one of those polyurethane suits that is generally considered faster than the Speedo LZR Racer, the once-revolutionary suit Phelps wore.
Minutes after Biedermann's upset, Britain's Gemma Spofforth set the 13th world record of these championships, beating Russia's Anastasia Zueva in the 100-meter backstroke.
Spofforth rallied on the return lap for a finish of 58.12 seconds, knocking off Zueva's record of 58.48 that was set in the semifinals. Zueva also went under the previous mark, but her time of 58.18 was good for only a silver medal.
Biedermann conceded after his 400 free win that the suit made him two seconds faster, but Phelps passed on the chance to wear one of the latest-generation suits. He's been sponsored by Speedo since he was a teenager and wasn't about to abandon the company that paid him a $1 million bonus after he won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.
Phelps was ahead off the blocks, but Biedermann surged into the lead by the first flip and steadily extended his advantage. By the finish, he was a full body-length ahead of Phelps.
While Biedermann celebrated his time of 1 minute, 42.00 seconds, which knocked off Phelps' world mark of 1:42.96 from the Beijing Olympics, the American stared at the scoreboard for a few seconds, then headed toward the side of the pool without acknowledging the swimmer who had just handed him his first big individual loss since July 30, 2005, at the world championships in Montreal.
That night, Ian Crocker beat Phelps in the 100 butterfly. Bouncing back from that disappointment, Phelps went 5-for-5 in his individual events at the 2007 worlds in Melbourne, then duplicated the feat in his great haul of China, where three relay wins gave him an iconic sporting achievement.
"Theoretically, that was a pretty good swim for me, three-tenths off my best time after taking six months off," said Phelps, referring to his layoff after the Olympics. "I mean, I'm not happy, but I mean I know I didn't train much this year. For right now, I'll take it. But I'm not pleased."
That was obvious from the awards ceremony. Phelps started to walk away after the top three got their medals, then was to be motioned back to the top rung to pose for pictures with the winner and bronze medalist.
Instead of being the center of attention, Phelps had to stand off to the side, looking glumly toward the cameras. As they walked around the deck, Biedermann danced in delight while Phelps managed a few forced smiles toward the stands.
Finally, Phelps climbed toward the stands to drop off a stuffed mascot with his mother, Debbie, who leaned over to give him a consoling hug. Before her son even left the pool deck, he pulled off his silver medal, as if he wanted no part of that consolation prize.