Iranian swimmer Mohammed Alirezaei failed to come up with an original explanation when asked why he withdrew from a heat featuring Israel’s Gal Nevo in the World Championships in Shanghai, saying on Tuesday that he couldn’t compete in the 100-meters breastroke because he was tired and drowsy.

Alirezaei also refused to race alongside Israeli swimmer Tom Be’eri in the 100m breaststroke heats at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but he maintained on Tuesday that his move wasn’t political.

Alirezaei said that his flight had only landed the day before the race after completing his 50m breaststroke heat on Tuesday, adding that he did not have a problem competing against Israelis.

He claimed that the fact that both withdrawals came against Israelis was merely a coincidence, but Nevo wants swimming’s world governing body FINA to finally take a stand against such incidents.

“The Iranian swimmer consistently disgraces the World Championships and it is about time that FINA takes care of this issue,” Nevo said.

Nevo was the only Israeli to compete in the championships on Tuesday, finishing the 200m butterfly heats in 27th position in a season-best time of 1:59.68 minutes.

The 24-year-old will race the first of his two main events on Wednesday, swimming the 200m individual medley.

Meanwhile in Shanghai, Ryan Lochte’s victory in the men’s 200- meter freestyle on Tuesday not only allowed him to emerge from compatriot Michael Phelps’s shadow, but could set up a mouthwatering ”Race of the Century – Part Two” at next year’s London Olympics.

Lochte’s impressive turn at the 100 mark, when he exploded off the wall to catch, then overtake, Olympic champion Phelps, propelled him to the victory over a high-class field that included world record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany and South Korea’s 400 meters freestyle champion Park Tae-hwan.

While Lochte’s victory was impressive enough, it is the likely return of Australian Ian Thorpe to competition that could set up a repeat of the race that captivated the Athens Olympics.

Thorpe prevailed over Pieter van den Hoogenband and Phelps in the men’s 200 freestyle in Athens – the so-called “Race of the Century” – but Lochte’s victory makes the 2012 race even more palatable and he is already looking forward to another showdown with Phelps in it next year.

“Michael and I have been training head to head for about eight years, back and forth [and] we will keep on pushing each other for the 2012 Olympics,” Lochte told reporters. “I’m definitely a different swimmer after 2008, smarter, stronger.

“I knew Michael was going to go out fast, but I realized that I’ve got a shot. I didn’t know I was the winner right away.

“I was happy. That kind of feeling is really good, all the hard work had paid off.”

While Phelps was forced to settle for silver, he showed that two years of frustration may be about to end when he qualified third fastest for the men’s 200 meter butterfly final.

No longer the unbeatable force in the event, Phelps still proved he had enough in reserve to match it with the best in the world after two tough races within the space of 90 minutes.

The home crowd also had plenty to celebrate on Tuesday when Zhao Jing produced a fast finish to overcome Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin in the women’s 100m backstroke and snatch the host country’s second gold in the pool.


“The gold medal has significant meaning to me,” Zhao said.

“It is definitely a huge boost to my confidence in the build-up to the London Olympic Games.”

The host nation had more to celebrate when they grabbed two bronze medals with Ji Liping in the women’s 100 breaststroke and Li Xuanxu in the women’s 1,500 freestyle.

Rebecca Soni of the United States cemented her credentials as the world’s pre-eminent breaststroker with her victory over Australia’s Leisel Jones in the 100 breaststroke final and also set up another exciting clash in London.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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