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WORLD SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Phelps splashes to 5th gold

43 world records topple in Rome

By Paul Newberry
Associated Press / August 3, 2009

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ROME - Michael Phelps had every reason to be satisfied after the Beijing Olympics. Yet he kept insisting there was more to do in the pool.

Clearly.

Even coming off his longest layoff and the embarrassment of being photographed inhaling from a marijuana pipe, Phelps turned in another remarkable performance over eight days at the Foro Italico. He completed it yesterday by helping the United States’s 4 x 100-meter medley relay team set the 43d world record of the fastest meet in history.

OK, he didn’t win another eight golds. This time, he made do with five golds and a silver.

Still, Phelps showed plenty of fire, even when there’s really nothing left to prove.

“I never want to look back on my career and ask, ‘What if?’ ’’ he said.

Swimming the butterfly leg, Phelps helped the United States pull away from Germany and Australia to win in 3 minutes 27.28 seconds. That easily broke the mark of 3:29.34 set by the Americans at last summer’s Olympics, another relay team that included Phelps.

“That relay brings out the best in me,’’ Phelps said. “It doesn’t matter how much energy I have, it’s all going to go into every race. That’s one of the things that I enjoy most - stepping out onto the blocks no matter what kind of shape I’m in.’’

Phelps took six months off after his Beijing triumph, drew a three-month suspension from competition after the infamous pipe photo - and he was still honored as the outstanding male swimmer of the championships. Italy’s Federica Pellegrini received the female award at the final major meet for high-tech bodysuits, which will be banned Jan. 1.

We aren’t likely to see these sort of times for years, maybe decades. But Phelps said he’s not concerned about turning back to the clock on attire. He’s got plenty of goals in mind.

“I have more things I want to do,’’ he said. “That’s why I wanted to come back. I don’t care if anyone says it was a bad idea or not, it’s something that I wanted and that’s why I’m doing it.’’

His coach, Bob Bowman, said Phelps will get all of two weeks off before he’s back in the pool.

On to London in 2012.

“I’ve got to be in better shape,’’ Phelps said. “I think without taking six months off, that will do it.’’

Phelps found plenty of reasons to be motivated in Rome - notably when Serbia’s Milorad Cavic tried to get in his head before their showdown in the 100 fly. Both swimmers became the first to break 50 seconds, but it was Phelps who touched first in a world record.

“A lot of motivating comments were said,’’ Phelps pointed out, without mentioning Cavic by name. “That always gets me going. That’s something that helped me along the way.’’

Eric Shanteau, who overcame testicular cancer to swim his best times, picked up the first major gold medal of his career on the breaststroke leg of the relay, to go along with a silver and a bronze in Rome. The other members of the winning team were backstroker Aaron Peirsol and freestyle anchor David Walters.

Also yesterday, Ryan Lochte won his fourth gold of the championships and Germany’s Britta Steffen matched her 50-100 freestyle sweep in Beijing.

Steffen was one of the biggest female stars in Rome. She set her third world record of the meet while winning the 50 free in 23.73.

The German repeated her Olympic feat in a blistering race, beating the mark of 23.96 held by Marleen Veldhuis of the Netherlands since April. Sweden’s Therese Alshammar went under the old record as well, settling for silver (23.88). Australian teenager Cate Campbell got bronze.

Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli matched his Olympic gold by winning again in the 1,500 free, the longest event in the pool. After a tight battle over the first 1,000 meters with Canada’s Ryan Cochrane, Mellouli pulled away to win in 14:37.28, though short of Grant Hackett’s 8-year-old world record of 14:34.56.

Another race where the old mark stood up was the women’s 400 IM, won by Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu in 4:30.31, just off Stephanie Rice’s mark of 4:29.45 at last summer’s Olympics.