Irie nabs bronze in 100 back

Kyodo, AP

Ryosuke Irie delivered Japan’s first medal of the 2011 FINA World Swimming Championships in Shanghai on Tuesday, taking the bronze in the men’s 100 meters backstroke.

Irie, who qualified with the second-fastest time in Monday’s semis, clocked 52.98 seconds to place third behind Frenchman Camille Lacourt and compatriot Jeremy Stravius, who both timed 52.76 to finish in a rare dead heat for gold.

“For a long time I haven’t been able to get a medal in the 100 so I’m delighted,” said Irie, who took the silver in the 200 in his debut at the worlds in Rome two years ago. “It’s great to win Japan’s first medal.”

Aya Terakawa placed fifth in 59.35 in the women’s 100 backstroke won by China’s Zhao Jing, who stunned Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin of the United States to strike gold with a time of 59.05.

Russia’s Anastasia Zueva won the silver in 59.06, while Coughlin had to settle for bronze in 59.15.

“I didn’t get a medal but was focused on this race and gave it everything I possibly could,” said Terakawa, who is No. 1 in the 100 backstroke world rankings this season but barely made it into the final after posting the eighth-best time in the semis.

“I knew it would be a tight race and just didn’t have enough strength. I just have to accept this result for what it is,” she said.

Also Tuesday, Michael Phelps was out for revenge against Paul Biedermann. This time, though, American teammate Ryan Lochte beat the 14-time Olympic champion.

Lochte overtook Phelps on the final turn of the 200-meter freestyle to win one of the most highly awaited races of the world championships and remind everyone that he’s a threat to replace Phelps as the world’s top swimmer.

Lochte touched in 1 minute, 44.44 seconds, with Phelps taking the silver in 1:44.79. Biedermann of Germany settled for bronze in 1:44.88.

Park Tae Hwan of South Korea, who won the 400 free on the opening night of the eight-day meet on Sunday, was fourth.

“Me and Michael have been battling head to head for about almost eight years now,” said Lochte, the 2010 FINA Swimmer of the Year. “It’s been going back and forth. We definitely feel a good rivalry. This level we are at, we both want to win and we don’t like to lose. No matter what happens, we are definitely pushing each other for 2012.”

Already energized by Lochte’s win, the near capacity crowd at the Oriental Sports Center upped the noise when local favorite Zhao won the next race, the women’s 100 backstroke.

Lochte also beat Phelps in the 200 individual medley and 200 backstroke at last year’s U.S. championships, then won six golds to Phelps’ five at the Pan Pacific Championships in 2010 — prompting Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman to acknowledge that Lochte was the best swimmer last year.

However, at the previous worlds in Rome two years ago, Biedermann handed Phelps a stinging defeat in this event, beating the American by more than a second and taking down Phelps’ world record in the process.

Biedermann acknowledged afBiedermann himself acknowledged after that race that his high-tech bodysuit was partly responsible for his win and Phelps’ coach threatened to keep his star swimmer out of the water until the polyurethane suits were banned.

This is the first major international meet since the return to textile suits, and Lochte’s winning time was far off Biedermann’s world record of 1:42.00.

“In ’09, I just did my thing. For the moment now it’s more difficult for me,” Biedermann said. “The suits helped. No matter what we are back in jammers now and that’s all that counts.”

Phelps and Lochte, meanwhile, will face each other again in the 200 IM later in the meet.

With the win, Zhao heard the boisterous banging drums from the red-clad Chinese team sitting in the stands.

By capturing the aforementioned bronze, Coughlin raised her record total to 18 medals over five worlds.

Zhao attributed her victory to eight weeks of intense training in Australia after she was named to the national team earlier this year. The training left her so exhausted, she talked to her coach midway through about whether she could continue with such a difficult regimen.

“After I talked with the coach, I decided to stick with the training and after I came back to China, I was well prepared for the world championships,” she said.

Defending champion Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa led the men’s 50 breast semifinals. Phelps also had another swim, qualifying third behind Takeshi Matsuda and China’s Chen Yin in the 200 fly semifinals.