MONTREAL (AP) – When it comes to the backstroke, no one does it better than Aaron Peirsol.

The American added to an already extensive legacy when he broke his own world record in the 200-meter backstroke Friday – a performance that left even his rivals in awe at the World Swimming Championships.

“I always get to watch his feet during the races,” said Austria’s Markus Rogan, the runner-up but more than two seconds behind.

Leisel Jones left everyone in her wake, too.

The Australian broke the second world record of the night in the 200 breaststroke, totally burying her reputation as a petulant swimmer who couldn’t win the big races.

“It sort of releases a lot of pressure on me – or maybe it puts a lot of pressure on me now,” she said.

Jones shattered Amanda Beard’s old mark and completed a sweep of the 100-200 breaststroke, a feat that was matched on the men’s side by American Brendan Hansen.

Hansen won his own 200 breast, and the Americans wrapped up a warm, breezy night on the Ile Saint-Helene with a dominating victory in the men’s 800 freestyle relay.

Michael Phelps led off, earning his fourth gold medal of the meet, and Klete Keller swam the anchor leg – just as he did during a thrilling Olympic race in Athens.

Phelps still has an enticing rematch today of his 100 butterfly victory in Athens, when he edged teammate and world record holder Ian Crocker for the gold. Crocker and Phelps qualified 1-2 in the semifinals.

Australia won the night’s other race, with Jodie Henry taking gold in the women’s 100 free.

Rogan applauded Peirsol as they climbed from the pool. The American’s time of 1 minute, 54.66 seconds broke his mark from last year’s U.S. Olympic trials (1:54.74).

“I’m starting to feel very possessive about it,” Peirsol said.

The 19-year-old Jones had the crowd roaring every time her head popped out of the water on the way to a record of 2:21.72. Beard’s mark from last year was 2:22.24.

After touching the wall, Jones was huffing and puffing so much that she barely had enough energy to turn for a look at her time. No need.

“A lot of people have said to me that I’m incapable of breaking the world record, but I didn’t really believe that,” Jones said. “I think I’ve set a target like the 4-minute mile.”

Germany’s Anne Poleska took the silver, Austria’s Mirna Jukic the bronze.

In the 200 back, Peirsol’s only competition was the clock. He was comfortably ahead at the first turn and steadily extended his margin, gliding comfortably atop the water with his long arms churning like windmills.

Peirsol finished it off with a mighty lunge, then spun around to see his time. When the world record flashed on the scoreboard, the usually laid-back Californian pumped his fist and splashed the water in delight.

Rogan was next in 1:56.63, while Ryan Lochte of the U.S. claimed the bronze.

The men’s 800 free relay was one of the most thrilling races in Athens, a seven-minute showdown between the world’s two swimming powers. Keller held off Australian star Ian Thorpe with a lunge to the wall, winning by a mere 13-hundredths of a second.

The U.S. brought back the same lineup for Montreal: Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Peter Vanderkaay and Keller. They took three-quarters of a second off their time from Athens, setting an American record of 7:06.58.

“We wanted to see how close we could get to the world record,” said Phelps, referring to the Aussies’ 2001 mark of 7:04.66. “We’ll take that for right now.”

Without Thorpe, who is taking some time off, the guys from Down Under weren’t close to the Americans. Canada took the silver at 7:09.73 – sending the home crowd into a frenzy – and Australia settled for bronze.

“I was a little nervous,” Keller said. “I didn’t expect the Canadians to be so close.”

No need for Peirsol to get nervous in the 200 back, a race he hasn’t lost in nearly five years. He’s won three straight world championships in the event, along with a gold medal at the Athens Games last summer.

Earlier in the meet, Peirsol won the 100 backstroke. He then completed his third straight backstroke sweep at a major meet, adding to his 100-200 doubles at the 2003 world championships in Barcelona and last year’s Olympics.

“Everyone else is catching up pretty darn fast,” Peirsol said. “Those guys pushed me.”

Rogan knows better.

“He’s two seconds and more ahead,” the silver medalist said. “He’s certainly very respectful to all his competitors, even though they’re way behind.”

Hansen was on pace to break his own world record through three laps of the men’s 200 breast, but he couldn’t hold on.

His winning time of 2:09.85 came up 0.81 short of the mark, still easily beating runner-up Mike Brown of Canada and bronze medalist Genki Imamura of Japan.

“The last 50 wasn’t there like I was hoping it would be,” Hansen said. “I’ll take the win.”

In the women’s 100 free, Henry finished strong but her time of 54.18 was nearly seven-tenths off her world-record swim at last summer’s Olympics.

“I honestly thought it would take a lot quicker time to win it,” she said.

American Natalie Coughlin and France’s Malia Metella tied for the silver. Coughlin added to the bronze she won in the 100 back.

Crocker had hoped to make a run at his world record in the 100 fly semifinals. He settled for being the fastest qualifier at 51.08, with Phelps at 52.02.

“I was hoping to go a little bit faster tonight, but I know I’ll have a lot more energy tomorrow,” Crocker said. “I’m looking forward to that race.”

So is everyone else.

AP-ES-07-29-05 2056EDT


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