World championships end with 43 world marks and few fond high-tech suit memories.
Published Aug. 3, 2009

ROME - When the last of the 43 world records had fallen during the eight-day world championships, it was remarkable how little anybody had actually learned.

As swimmers in glossy polyurethane bodysuits smashed virtually every record in the sport, times became meaningless, and achievements unclassifiable. This "will be remembered as the plastic meet," U.S. team director Mark Schubert said.

Consider Sunday's results. As Michael Phelps collected his fifth gold medal and third world record at the meet with the U.S. 400-meter medley relay team, the Americans, with a time of 3 minutes, 27.28 seconds, were one of four teams to go under the previous world record.

Two marks fell in non-Olympic events. Britain's Liam Tancock won the 50 backstroke in 24.04 seconds, Russia's Yuliya Efimova the 50 breaststroke in 30.09.

The previous mark for world records at a meet was obliterated: 29 at the 1976 Olympics, an event now known for the dominance of the steroid-enhanced East Germans. In Rome, the long-length swimsuits that became high-tech, performance-enhancing weapons over the past 18 months stole the headlines.

"It is a game this year, and you're forced to play it," said American Christine Magnuson, who swam in four events but did not win any of the U.S. team's 22 medals, its lowest total since it won 20 in 1994. But the suits will never be seen at a major championship again. In response to the outcry, the sport's world governing body will ban long-length, no-textile suits Jan. 1.

Also Sunday, ex-Gator Ryan Lochte won his fourth gold, in the 400 individual medley, and Germany's Britta Steffen matched her 50-100 freestyle sweep in Beijing. Tunisia's Ous Mellouli matched his Olympic gold by winning the 1,500 free.

No such glory for Dara Torres, 42. Bothered by a sore knee that requires surgery, she finished eighth, and last, in her only individual final, the 50 free.