SHANGHAI (AFP) – American great Michael Phelps got his world championships back on track Wednesday with a convincing 200m butterfly victory that kept alive his hopes for a second straight five-title haul.
The Olympic champion and world record-holder, who has been in uninspiring form, stormed ahead over the early stages and fought off a late challenge by Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda to win by 0.67sec, with China’s Wu Peng third.
A relieved Phelps smiled and shook Wu’s hand after the win, which seals his fifth 200m butterfly world title and makes up for a disappointing third place in the 4x100m relay and silver in the 200m freestyle.
“I didn’t want to lose that race again. Having a number of defeats this year is extremely frustrating for me and I didn’t like the feeling,” said Phelps.
“So I kind of wanted to have the feeling of winning a race again. It feels good to win a race.”
Phelps arrived in China, scene of his record-breaking eight-title haul at the Beijing Olympics, on the back of a string of losses, and admitted he had neglected training and spent too much time playing golf.
His slump reached a nadir in May, when Wu beat him in the 200m butterfly for the second time in two months — ending a nine-year unbeaten streak Phelps had hoped to preserve until retirement.
On a busy night for the American, Phelps also qualified second behind Ryan Lochte for Thursday’s 200m individual medley final, where he will try to avenge defeat to his team-mate in the 200m freestyle.
Phelps won five titles at the 2009 world championships in Rome, a year after his Beijing success, and now has a career tally of 23.
Also on Wednesday, Italy’s Federica Pellegrini claimed her second successive world freestyle double when she surged from fifth at halfway to win the 200m in 1:55.58 from Australia’s Kylie Palmer and Camille Muffat of France.
Olympic champion Pellegrini, who successively defended her world 400m crown on Sunday, appeared in trouble at 100m but she closed emphatically to win it by nearly half-a-second.
Meanwhile China’s Sun Yang won the men’s 800m freestyle title ahead of Canada’s Ryan Cochrane with Gergo Kis of Hungary third, delighting a packed Sea Crown stadium which has now witnessed three gold medals for the hosts.
Sun, 19, who led throughout, was never seriously troubled despite Cochrane’s best efforts and won by a healthy margin of 3.29sec, earning his first world title after finishing second in the 400m freestyle on Sunday.
“In my first event of the competition (400m free) I didn’t achieve what I expected because I did not bring out my best ability, so in today’s competition I swam according to my own rhythm,” Sun said.
“From the beginning to the end I swam very smoothly because I swam according to my own rhythm.”
Brazil’s Felipe Franca da Silva won the 50m breaststroke, ahead of Italian Fabio Scozzoli and defending champion Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa, in a time of 27.01sec.
And Australia’s “Port Maquarie Missile” James Magnussen swam 47.90sec to top the 100m freestyle semi-final timings, reinforcing his status as favourite for Thursday’s decider.
The 20-year-old Magnussen, who destroyed Phelps on the way to Australia’s famous 4x100m victory on the opening night, was followed by America’s Nathan Adrian with reigning champion Cesar Cielo fifth.
“I’m very happy that I am a little bit fast again. It’s good. The biggest thing is to be patient — it’s practice for the Olympic Games,” Magnussen said.