CHARLOTTE, N.C. ——Michael Phelps is not unbeatable.
Not when he's going against Aaron Peirsol.
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Wearing his new Arena suit, Peirsol got off to a strong start and touched in 53.32 seconds. Phelps was trailing by more than a half-second at the turn and had no chance to make that up against one of the world's greatest backstrokers, taking second in 53.79.
Phelps will remember this one.
"No matter who I'm racing, I hate to lose," he said. "Aaron and I have had a number of battles back and forth. ... That's the fun part about racing Aaron - you know he's always going be there. He's a racer. He's a competitor. He's someone I like to race."
Phelps' last defeat in a final? Exactly 364 days ago, when Peirsol beat him in the 200 backstroke at Santa Clara, Calif., during the run-up to the Olympics, according to USA Swimming.
Phelps didn't swim the backstroke in Beijing - it didn't fit into the schedule that produced a record eight gold medals and made him the winningest Olympian ever. But he's changing things up as he looks ahead to this summer's world championships and the 2012 London Games.
The 100 backstroke is one of his main targets.
Bring it on, Peirsol said.
"By no means is anybody giving anything to anybody," said Peirsol, who set a world record in the 100 back while winning his second straight Olympic gold in the event at Beijing. "I definitely wanted to win that race."
Phelps is competing in five events at Charlotte - his first meet since Beijing - but only two were on his Olympic program. He won them both Friday night, the 200 freestyle and 100 fly.
He swam the 50 free during the Saturday morning prelims and posted the eighth-fastest time, but that was merely a chance to test out the new straight-arm stroke he'll use in his final event, the 100 free Sunday. Phelps scratched from the 50 final, which was won by world-record holder Frederick Bousquet of France.
There's still some work to do in the 100 back, not to mention some stout competition. Ryan Lochte, the Olympic champion in the 200 back, finished fourth Saturday night - not bad considering he was wearing an old-fashioned Speedo brief instead of one of the high-tech suits.
Phelps tried to put the loss in perspective. He's coming off a nine-month layoff. He had intended to come back sooner but had to serve a three-month suspension imposed by USA Swimming after a British tabloid published a photo of him using a marijuana pipe.
Dagny Knutson, 17, picked up her third gold medal of the weekend with another win over Olympian Katie Hoff, this time in the 400 freestyle. Knutson won with a personal-best time of 4 minutes, 9.60 seconds.
Hoff, of Towson, who changed coaches after a disappointing performance in Beijing, has yet to recapture the form that made her one of the most hyped swimmers not named Phelps going into the Olympics. She was edged at the wall in 4:09.72, after also losing to Knutson in the 200 free.
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