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Phelps flounders behind Italian, South Africans

Italian Filippo Magnini became the second-fastest 100m freestyle swimmer in history on Thursday, winning the coveted title in a blistering 48,12 seconds at the 11th World Swimming Championships.

Magnini fended off the formidable challenge of South Africans Roland Schoeman and Ryk Neethling, who finished second and third.

And the trio of speedsters did something few swimmers can manage these days: They left six-time Olympic champion Michael Phelps floundering in their wake.

”I stayed focused on my swim,” said Magnini, a one-time breaststroker whose previous best international performance was earning the 100m free European title last year. ”When I saw I was between the two South African guys, I gave everything I had.”

He finished with a championship record — only world-record-holder Pieter van den Hoogenband has swum faster.

But after trailing both Schoeman and Neethling at the turn, he didn’t know until the race was over that he had gotten past them.

”I realised that I won only when I touched the wall,” he said.

Schoeman, silver medallist behind Van den Hoogenband at the Athens Olympics last year, was runner-up again, in 48,28. Neethling took the bronze in 48,34.

”It’s amazing,” Neethling said of South Africa’s medal double, ”for such a small country to have two swimmers on the podium.

”Hopefully just like Penny Heyns inspired us in 1996, this will inspire young kids, not just in South Africa but all over Africa, that they can be world champions.”

Despite the absence of Van den Hoogenband, who had hernia surgery earlier this year, it was clear the 100m final was shaping up as a fast one when Schoeman broke the 50m butterfly world record twice en route to the final.

Schoeman took the 100m out in an astonishing 22,42 seconds, but he couldn’t shake Magnini.

”That’s how he swims,” Neethling said of the Italian. ”He comes from behind. I knew I had to go out with Roland, but I couldn’t catch him at the end.”

Phelps, eighth at the turn, was seventh in 48,99 seconds, six-100ths of a second outside his personal best.

”I wasn’t able to get out with those guys,” said Phelps, whose attempt at the unfamiliar 100m free was a foray into uncharted waters. ”I was in their wake. I was just destroyed.”

It was the second freestyle experiment for Phelps at these championships and the second disappointing finish. He didn’t even make it to the final of the 400m freestyle.

But a return to his comfort zone in the 200m medley — in which he came in as the world-record holder as well as world and Olympic champion — yielded the sixth individual world title of Phelps’s career.

That matches the record held by Australian great Ian Thorpe — who is skipping Montreal — and Aussie Grant Hackett, who like Phelps has more gold in sight before his week here ends.

In the medley, Phelps surged past Hungarian Lazslo Cseh to win in 1:56,68.

Cseh, who led after the butterfly and backstroke legs, settled for silver in a European record of 1:57,61, with American Ryan Lochte taking bronze in 1:57,79.

Poland’s Olympic champion Otylia Jedrzejczak bettered her world record in the women’s 200m butterfly, adding the world title to the gold she won in Athens in 2:05,61.

Jedrzejczak clung to Aussie Jessica Schipper’s shoulder the entire race, finally passing her on the final lap.

She bettered the previous record of 2:05,78 that she set in Berlin on August 4 2002.

Schipper’s time of 2:05,65 was also inside the previous mark, but the 18-year-old said there was no sense of disappointment at missing out on either the world record or the gold.

”It’s a three-second personal best for me,” she said. ”I’m over the moon about it.”

Japan’s Yuko Nakanishi was a distant third, taking the bronze in 2:09,40.

Australia’s Giaan Rooney won the women’s 50m backstroke in 28,63 seconds, her second individual world title coming four years after she won the 200m freestyle at the 2001 World Championships in Fukuoka.

China’s Gao Chang was second in 28,69 and Germany’s Antje Buschschulte took the bronze in 28,72 to go with the 100m backstroke silver medal and relay silver she won earlier this week.

But Australia’s women couldn’t hold off the Americans in the 4x200m free relay, with United States anchor swimmer Kaitlin Sandeno edging past Linda Mackenzie in the final 100m of her leg for a victory in 7:53,70.

Sandeno said she found the slight lead Australia held at the start of her leg enticing.

”It’s kind of like a little carrot being dangled in front of you,” she said. ”I gave it everything I had.”

Australia finished second in 7:54,06 and China took the bronze in 7:57,29. — Sapa-AFP

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