Swimming: Spofforth opens gold account

First win for Britain comes in 100m backstroke – while Phelps suffers shock defeat
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The Independent Online

Gemma Spofforth last night won gold and set a world record of 58.12sec in the 100m backstroke at the world championships here with a spectacular finish to her race.

The Sussex-born swimmer was second for most of the event but just touched out the Russian Anastasia Zueva in the final metres on a night when Michael Phelps suffered his first major individual defeat in four years.

Spofforth's is the first gold won in the pool by the British team, following the silver and bronze won by Joanne Jackson and Rebecca Adlington in the 400m freestyle at the weekend. Keri-Anne Payne won the 10km open-water swim last week.

"I am very excited with that result," the 21-year-old Spofforth said. "I was thinking I have to take it out a bit faster than I did [on Monday]. Then I came home a bit faster."

The University of Florida swimmer lost her mother, Lesley, to bowel cancer in December 2007 and she dedicated the victory to her memory, saying: "My mum's thoughts were always with me. She got me there over the last 15 metres."

Spofforth became Great Britain's first long-course world champion since 2003. She turned in second at the halfway mark behind Zueva, who had set a world record on Monday in the semi-finals. However, the Briton came back on the final 25m to out-touch the Russian to beat her world record.

She thus became the first Briton since Katy Sexton – also a Portsmouth Northsea backstroker – and James Gibson to claim gold at the worlds. Spofforth was fourth in the event at last year's Olympics and admitted before Rome this had given her extra motivation going into the championships.

Spofforth's win came just minutes after Germany's Paul Biedermann set the 12th record of the championships, beating Phelps in the 200m freestyle.

Biedermann won in 1min 42.00sec, beating Phelps' previous record of 1:42.96 and handing the American his first solo defeat in four years. Biedermann wore his Arena X-Glide suit which has helped him to take more than seven seconds off his 400m freestyle best since 2008, and Phelps was a body length behind in second at 1:43.22. "For the moment it is just like a dream," Biedermann said. Asked if he had thought he could beat Olympic champion Phelps, who won the world title in 2005 and 2007, Biedermann said: "Maybe in two or three years, not now."

Phelps said: "Theoretically that was a pretty good swim for me. Three tenths off my best time after taking sixth months off. I'm not happy but I know I didn't train much this year. For right now, I'll take it. But I'm not pleased." That was obvious from the awards ceremony. Phelps started to walk away after the top three got their medals, then had to be motioned back to the top rung to pose for pictures with the winner and bronze medalist.

Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, later suggested that his charge would not swim internationally after this meet until the issue of suits is fully resolved. Last night FINA, the sport's governing body, confirmed that these championships will be the final major international meet to witness the farcical effect of the performance-enhancing suits. From 2010 there will be a return to textile swimwear.

"A solution needs to be found to the issue of swimsuits as this is not swimming any more," added Phelps. "Technology has to go forward but I am looking forward to the time when we can go back to pure swimming."