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WORLD SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Phelps keeps up fast pace

American shatters record in 200 fly

Michael Phelps blew away the field in winning the 200 butterfly for his third gold medal in three events. (CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES)

MELBOURNE -- Michael Phelps is turning the world swimming championships into kid's play.

The American earned his third gold medal with another world record last night, producing the biggest time drop in the 200-meter butterfly in 48 years.

"I feel like a 12-year-old, being able to drop more than a second off my best time," the 21-year-old superstar said. "I'm showing I'm in solid shape now."

Phelps won with the same get-out-fast and blow 'em away strategy he used in taking the 200 freestyle a night earlier. He raced to the lead and stayed there, touching in 1 minute, 52.09 seconds. That was faster than the 1:53.71 he swam at a meet in Columbia, Mo., Feb. 17.

"I shocked myself," said Phelps, who is 3 for 3, with victories in the 400 freestyle relay, the 200 free, and 200 fly. "I didn't know I would be that far under it."

His 1.62-second improvement was the largest in the 200 fly since American Mike Troy lowered his own record by 2.6 seconds in 1959. Phelps also became the first man to go under 1:53 in the event.

Laure Manaudou of France followed Phelps's race with a world record of her own, winning the 200 freestyle for her second individual gold.

The United States leads with 14 medals halfway through the eight-day meet, including eight golds. Australia has eight medals and three golds.

The news wasn't all good for the US, though. World-record holder Brendan Hansen dropped out of the 200-meter breaststroke because of illness, spoiling the next chapter in his rivalry with Kosuke Kitajima of Japan. The American was due to swim in a morning preliminary heat today, with the final set for tomorrow night.

Phelps simply crushed his rivals, beating silver medalist Wu Peng of China by 3.04 seconds. Phelps already owned the seven fastest times in history in the event. "He is simply way too fast, way too fast," Wu said through a translator. "I couldn't see him."

Phelps returned later for the 200 IM semifinals and did just enough to be the leading qualifier for today's final. He finished in 1:57.94. Teammate Ryan Lochte was second quickest in 1:48.58.

Australian Grant Hackett's grip on the 800 free ended with a seventh-place finish by the two-time defending champion -- 16 seconds slower than his world record. Ous Mellouli of Tunisia earned his country's first gold medal at the world championships, winning in 7:46.95.

Mellouli is a University of Southern California student who earned the silver in the 400 free, again beating Hackett, who settled for the bronze.

In this morning's prelims, American Natalie Coughlin qualified first in the 100 freestyle, with teammate Amanda Weir ninth among the 16 swimmers moving on to the semifinals.

Coughlin was timed in 54.04 seconds while Weir came in at 55.03. World-record holder Britta Steffen of Germany was fourth.

Away from the pool, Ukraine team official Mihail Zubkov was suspended by world swimming authorities for assaulting his daughter Kateryna, a swimmer, at the championships. FINA's temporary ban bars Zubkov from working as a coach or official under its jurisdiction until a final decision has been made, following an appeal by his lawyer. In TV footage captured Tuesday, Zubkov was shown scuffling with his 20-year-old daughter, Kateryna Zubkova, at Rod Laver Arena.

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