ROME - - Foes used to be easily identifiable for Michael Phelps.
Keeping up with the Ians - Thorpes and Crockers - was one thing. But keeping up with the Biedermanns?
Welcome to Mr. Phelps' Neighborhood in a swimming universe gone mad at the world championships, with 11 records in the first two days, including five more Monday night. The new world order also featured a shocking result: no Aaron Peirsol in the final of the 100 backstroke.
Two of the latest world records were by Americans Rebecca Soni and Ariana Kukors. Soni went 1 minute, 4.84 seconds in the semifinals of 100-meter breaststroke, and Kukors won the 200 individual medley in 2:06.15, beating Olympic champion Stephanie Rice of Australia.
Kukors, who broke the world record she set Sunday in the semifinals, didn't even qualify for the event at the recent U.S. nationals, placing third. She only got into the event at worlds when teammate Elizabeth Pelton of North Baltimore Aquatic Club withdrew because of a schedule conflict.
Pelton's decision didn't work out as she failed to make the 100 backstroke finals. The 15-year-old went slower in the semifinals than she did in prelims.
Three men went under the existing world record in the 100 breaststroke. Two women were under the old world record in the 100 backstroke, and for the kicker, two-time Olympic champion and world-record holder Peirsol did not make the final in the 100 backstroke, placing ninth in 53.22.
"It was just a huge miscalculation," Peirsol said. "I thought I was in a much better place in that race than I was."
Peirsol's misstep served as a reminder that it simply isn't possible to keep much in reserve.
"You really have to be ready to race," Phelps said. "People are swimming really fast right now."
Phelps undercut those words a few seconds later when the second semifinal of the 200 freestyle was concluding. His mood changed when he looked at the monitor and learned that Paul Biedermann of Germany went 1:43.65 - which was 1.58 seconds faster than Phelps.
When Phelps, who had the third-fastest time, resumed his interview in the mixed zone, he seemed agitated and didn't like yet another question about the controversial high-tech swimsuits. There was that and Biedermann breaking a huge barrier Sunday, erasing Ian Thorpe's venerable record in the 400 freestyle. Suddenly Biedermann and his high-tech suit are a concern.
"What did he go? 1:43?" Phelps asked. "He's dropped a lot of time. Usually you don't see six seconds dropped in a 400 in a year. He's having a good meet, having a good year. It's going to be a good race."