May 23, 2012

Even without his super suit, Paul Biedermann showed he's a threat again by winning the 200-meter freestyle at the European Championship by a large margin Wednesday, following up a gold in the 400 two days earlier.

Biedermann burst onto the scene at the 2009 worlds in Rome, when the German swept the 200 and 400 in world-record times - easily beating Michael Phelps in the 200 and breaking Ian Thorpe's seven-year-old 400 mark in the process. But those races were won in the now banned high-tech bodysuits, which favored Biedermann's muscle mass.

Biedermann has since slimmed down to adapt to textile suits.

He touched in 1 minute, 46.27 seconds - nearly 1 1/2 seconds off the time he posted to earn bronze behind Ryan Lochte and Phelps at last year's worlds in Shanghai. Still, it was a respectable performance coming just a couple weeks after the German trials.

"It didn't go 100 percent, but the time was OK," Biedermann said.

Amaury Leveaux of France took silver in 1:47.69 - a full body length behind Biedermann - and Dominik Kozma of Hungary won bronze in 1:47.72.

Meanwhile, Biedermann's girlfriend, Olympic champion Britta Steffen, settled for second in the 100 freestyle, with Sarah Sjoestroem of Sweden winning by a large margin for her second gold of the meet, having also won the 50 butterfly. Another German, Daniela Schreiber, took bronze.

"I couldn't expect to achieve my time from the German nationals. I immediately went back to training hard for the Olympics," said Steffen, who gave her silver medal to the meet's stunned public address announcer as she walked off the pool deck.

Quickly turning from a fly specialist into a freestyle sprinter, Sjoestroem finished in 53.61 seconds. Steffen, the world-record holder, touched in 54.15 and Schreiber's time was 54.41.

Several other top sprinters, including Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Therese Alshammar, are skipping this meet to prepare for the Olympics.

There was also a German winner in the 100 breaststroke, Sarah Poewe.

The biggest cheers of the night came when Laszlo Cseh of host Hungary won his fourth straight title in the 200 individual medley in 1:56.66 to break his own championship record. He swam faster than when he took bronze behind Lochte and Phelps in Shanghai.

"I'm very happy, because this is a personal best in a textile suit," Cseh said. "And I only had 20 minutes between the semis of the 200 fly and this final. ... I had to win this race before my home crowd."

The biggest surprise of the session came in the 1,500, which was won by 17-year-old Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri in a championship-record 14:48.92 - albeit nearly 15 seconds off the world record set by Sun Yang last year.

Paltrinieri was only aiming to break 15 minutes.

"I'm really surprised by my time. My tactic was to swim the race from the front, because I wanted to qualify for the Olympics, and that's what I did," Paltrinieri said.

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