Swimmers set seven more new world records

ROME: When in Rome, throw out the record book.

No need for one at the fastest show on water.

Even with Michael Phelps sitting in the stands, seven more world records fell at the world championships on Thursday. For those who've lost count, that's 29 over five days at the Foro Italico - and there's still three days to go.

At last summer's Beijing Olympics, swimmers broke 25 records at the Water Cube, and the world thought that would be tough to beat.

Records fell so fast in Thursday's nine events that the crowd barely had time to cheer one swimmer before another mark dropped.

"I think it's only been two or three races that haven't had a world record," said Australia's Jess Schipper, who got in on the fun by taking down the old standard in the 200-metre butterfly.

So, is this a good thing? Or does it cheapen the coin of the realm, so to speak? "It's hard to say," Schipper said. "It's been a very exciting meet. It's been very fast. 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." Mark Spitz found the whole thing so amusing he released a statement to The Associated Press saying he was planning to get back in the pool, as long as he could wear one of the bodysuits that are helping to set these fast times.

"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," the 59-year-old winner of seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Games said, all in jest.

Ryan Lochte got things rolling on Thursday by breaking Phelps' mark in the 200-metre individual medley, with the former record holder cheering him on. The Chinese women finished it off with a flourish, taking down the 4x200 freestyle relay mark by more than two seconds in a thrilling race with the hard-charging Americans, who also broke the previous record but only got silver.

For the most part, the swimmers are just enjoying the ride, knowing this might be as fast as they'll ever swim and have it count. Some of these records could stand for years, even decades, if FINA follows through on its plan to ban bodysuits in 2010 and ensure that next-generation attire is made from textile fabrics instead of buoyant materials such as polyurethane.

Soaking up some rays on the sunny side of the stadium, a bare-chested Phelps joined in the celebration when Lochte touched in 1 minute, 54.10 seconds. That broke Phelps' gold-medal time of 1:54.23 from Beijing, and Lochte did it wearing the year-old Speedo LZR Racer, just like Phelps the previous night when he broke his own world record in the 200 butterfly.

"Everyone is complaining about all these new suits, blah blah blah, and I go out there and wear the same suit that's been out there and I just give it to them," Lochte said.

He would have liked Phelps in the water, not the stands. Phelps actually had the day off, the benefit of a reduced schedule in Rome.

Not quite as fit as he was last year, he dropped the 200 and 400 individual medleys from his programme.

"It feels good to do that (world record), but at the same time I wish he was doing it," Lochte said, referring to his biggest rival.

"I love a challenge. And I love racing against him, because he is one of the best swimmers ever. Anytime I can race against him, I would be more than happy to." Laszlo Cseh of the Hungary took the silver in 1:55.24, and American Eric Shanteau captured his first major international medal with a bronze.

Shanteau competed at last year's Olympics after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, and his perseverance paid off on a very strong night. He also posted the second-fastest time in the semifinals of the 200 breaststroke, surpassed only by - what else? - a world record, this one by Australia's Christian Sprenger in the first heat.

In one of the most anticipated races of the night, Brazil's Cesar Cielo became the first swimmer to break 47 seconds in the 100 freestyle and have it stand, holding off France's Alain Bernard.

Cielo won the furious down-and-back race in 46.91, beating Eamon Sullivan's mark of 47.05 set during the semifinals of the Beijing Olympics.

Bernard won the Olympic gold when he beat Sullivan in the final.

But the big Frenchman had to settle for silver in Rome at 47.12, with countryman Fred Bousquet also reaching the medal stand in third.

Cielo won the 50 free in Beijing, and now he's got a 100 title on his resume.

"I'm a lot more mature," said Cielo, who broke down in tears on the medal stand. "I learned a lot, grew up a lot and I'm stronger, too. It all just came together." Bernard did break 47 seconds this year in the 100 free, but his mark was thrown out because his suit had not been approved by FINA.

Eventually, the governing body cleared just about every suit for the world championships, while vowing to rein things in next year.

Canada's Annanmay Pierse set a standard in the women's 200 breast during the semifinals. Her time of 2:20.12 beat Rebecca Soni's record of 2:20.22 from Beijing, but the American will have a chance to take the mark even lower when they meet in the final on Friday.

China's Zhao Jing won the women's 50 backstroke, a non-Olympic event, in 27.06 seconds. That knocked off the record set a day earlier by Russia's Anastasia Zueva (27.38), who didn't even get a medal, as it turned out. She finished fourth in the final.

Schipper rallied on the final lap of the 200 breast to win in 2:03.41 seconds. That beat the 2:04.14 posted a day earlier by American Mary Descenza in the preliminaries. Like Zueva, Descenza not only lost her record but a medal by finishing fourth.

Schipper had barely climbed from the water when fellow Aussie Sprenger won his semifinals heat of the 200 breast in 2:07.31, edging out Japanese star Kosuke Kitijima's mark of 2:07.51 set in 2008.

China had the final record of the night, edging out the American women in the 4x200 free relay. The Chinese built a big lead and held on to win in 7:42.08, which easily surpassed the mark of 7:44.31 set by Australia at the Beijing Games.