| Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband, who won gold and silver medals in the 200m freestyle, in Barcelona on Tuesday. (AP)
Barcelona: Michael Phelps of the United States retained his 200 metres butterfly title at the world swimming championships on Wednesday.
Phelps, who broke his own world record in the semi-finals when he clocked one minute 53.93 seconds, touched in 1:54.35 to edge out Japan’s Takashi Yamamoto (1:55.52) and Tom Malchow of the US (1:55.66).
The 18-year-old from Baltimore had been behind Ukraine’s Denis Sylantyev at the 100 turn but slowly edged ahead by the 150 mark.
He then pulled away from the field and held on from the fast-finishing Yamamoto and Olympic champion Malchow.
Alena Popchenko brought Belarus their first title of the meet, coming through in the final length to beat Slovakia’s Martina Moravcova and win the women’s 200 metres freestyle.
Popchenko, the European bronze medallist, clocked one minute 58.32 seconds as Olympic silver medallist Moravcova had to settle for another silver in 1:58.44.
China’s Yang Yu, silver medallist at the last world championships in Fukuoka in 2001, took the bronze in 1:58.54 ahead of short-course world champion Lindsay Benko of the US, the fastest qualifier.
Benko, Olympic gold medallist in the 4x200 freestyle relay, missed the 2001 world championships through injury and had to settle for fourth on Wednesday in 1:58.84.
Moravcova, bronze medallist in Monday’s 100 butterfly, set the pace through the race and into the final turn but Popchenko, fourth behind her in the 100 butterfly, found the reserves to pass her.
James Gibson claimed Britain’s first title when he won the men’s 50 metres breaststroke final.
Commonwealth champion Gibson, bronze medallist in Monday’s 100 metres breaststroke, pulled ahead near the end of a close race to win in 27.56 seconds from defending champion Oleg Lisogor of Ukraine.
Lisogor clocked 27.74, way outside his 27.18 world record, for the silver and 19-year-old Hungarian Mihaly Flaskay, the European silver medallist, took bronze in 27.79.
Gibson had been fastest in Tuesday’s heats and semi-finals, setting a championship record of 27.46 in the semis.
Meanwhile, Australia retained their men’s 4x200 metres freestyle relay title thanks to an inspired leg by Nicholas Sprenger.
Australia’s final man Ian Thorpe, the world 200m champion, touched in seven minutes 08.58 seconds, well outside Australia’s world record of 7.04.66, to nudge out the United States (7:10.26) and Germany (7:14.02).
The US started superbly, with 200 butterfly champion Michael Phelps giving them a slight lead over Australia’s Grant Hackett before Nate Dusing put five metres on Craig Stevens.
However, Sprenger swam an inspired third leg to catch 100 backstroke winner Aaron Peirsol on the final length before handing over to Thorpe, who was never threatened bringing home Australia’s third successive gold medal in the event.
Earlier on Tuesday, Thorpe scored a comprehensive victory over his Olympic nemesis Pieter van den Hoogenband and Phelps set a majestic world record.
Phelps lowered his own 200 butterfly world mark by more than half a second, sweeping away from his semi-final rivals in 1:53.93 seconds to beat the 1:54.58 mark he set in winning the title at the last world championships in Japan in 2001.
Thorpe, who won the 400 freestyle world title on Sunday for a record third time, trailed his Dutch rival at the 100m mark but had hit the front by the end of the third length and surged away to win in 1:45.14 seconds.