A little-known German handed Michael 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 on Tuesday.
Virtually unknown outside his country before this meet, Paul Biedermann has now erased Ian Thorpe from the record book with a win in the 400 free and knocked off the most successful Olympian in history -- all in the space of three days.
"I'm not pleased," Phelps said, acknowledging he wasn't in the best shape after taking six months off to revel in his great haul of China.
But Biedermann's performance stirred up 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.
"The suits make a difference," Biedermann said. "Last year, it was Speedo. This year, it's Arena.
"I hope there will be a time when I can beat Michael Phelps without these suits," the German added. "I hope next year. I hope it's really soon."
Biedermann's upset launched another night of record breaking at the world championships. Four more world standards were bumped from the books, bringing the total to 15 through the first three days of an eight-day meet. That equals the number of records set at the last worlds in Melbourne two years ago, and will soon go right on past the staggering 25 worlds marks set last summer at the Olympics.
Britain's Gemma Spofforth went the fastest ever to win the 100 backstroke; Italy's Federica Pellegrini fired up the home crowd with her second world record of the championships in a semifinal heat of the 200 free; and South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh posted his own mark in the semis of the 50 breaststroke, a non-Olympic event.
But Biedermann's win _ and Phelps' loss _ stood out on a warm summer night at the Foro Italico.
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.
Shortly before the race, FINA confirmed that a ban on bodysuits will go into effect by May 2010, making this the last major competition where buoyancy aiding suits are allowed.
"It's not my problem," Biedermann said. "It's the problem of FINA. They should handle it really fast."