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WORLD SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Lochte gets his moment in spotlight

Ryan Lochte wears a winning smile after capturing the 200-meter backstroke. (ROB GRIFFITH/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

MELBOURNE -- Michael Phelps has spent plenty of time scaling the highest perch of the medal stand.

Ryan Lochte was used to stopping a step or two below.

Not anymore.

Mr. Runner-up is a world champion.

While Phelps remained perfect Down Under, winning his fifth straight gold medal at the world championships, another American turned things upside down yesterday -- if only for a night.

Ryan Lochte, a laid-back resident of Daytona Beach, Fla., who sounds as if he just wandered in from the surf, pulled off a stunning upset in the 200-meter backstroke, beating the supposedly invincible Aaron Peirsol with a world-record time.

Then Lochte joined Phelps and two of their teammates to set another world record in the 800 freestyle relay.

"I'm not going to lie," said Lochte, the silver medalist in the 200 individual medley at the 2004 Olympics. "I'm still kind of in shock that it actually did happen."

Lochte turned it on over the final 50 meters against Peirsol, handing the fellow American his first international loss in the 200 since the Sydney Olympics seven years ago.

Peirsol's streak of three straight world titles came to an end when Lochte touched the wall in 1 minute 54.32 seconds, erasing Peirsol's mark of 1:54.44.

Lochte leaped in the water, a huge grin spreading across his face, before he and Peirsol embraced.

"He definitely earned it," said Peirsol, who finished in 1:54.80. "I didn't have it where I usually have it."

For Lochte, it was an especially sweet victory. He is one of the world's most versatile swimmers but hardly gets noticed because his best events happen to be the ones that are ruled by Peirsol (100 and 200 backstroke) and Phelps (200 and 400 IM).

Lochte had another triumph to savor. He teamed with Phelps, Klete Keller, and Peter Vanderkaay to swim the 800 free relay in 7:03.24, lowering the time of 7:04.66 set by Australia in 2001.

In other events, Kosuke Kitajima of Japan regained the 200 breaststroke world title he lost two years ago in Montreal.

Leisel Jones of Australia easily completed a sweep of the women's breaststroke events, winning the 200 by more than four seconds.

Libby Lenton defeated a loaded field in the women's 100 freestyle, winning in 53.40 -- the second-fastest time in history. It was the Aussie's second individual gold of the meet and third overall.

Britta Steffen of Germany, the world record-holder, settled for the bronze, one spot ahead of American Natalie Coughlin. Defending world and Olympic champion Jodie Henry was sixth.

In today's preliminaries, Grant Hackett -- who had thought about quitting until just hours before his race -- finished fifth among the 1,500-meter qualifiers for tomorrow's final, where he'll try for an unprecedented fifth straight title.

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