In between, there were world records tumbling on Day 1. Six fell Sunday night, including Ian Thorpe's 400-meter freestyle, as well as the oldest women's mark on the books, the 100 butterfly.
"All the athletes in the back are saying it's crazy. Unfortunately, you have to wear these suits to keep up with everyone, but it'll be great when they go back and you'll really see who the swimmers are," said Dara Torres, who was on the U.S. women's 400 freestyle relay, which took fourth.
The controversial high-tech suits will be put in dry dock - but not until 2010. For now, it's a frenzied grab for records at the swim bazaar.
Paul Biedermann of Germany almost sounded an apologetic note after winning in 3 minutes, 40.07 seconds, besting Thorpe's 2002 mark of 3:40.08.
"The suit makes me really fast, almost two seconds [faster] in the race," he said. "I hope next year we can go back to normal."
The closest-contested men's final of Day 1 did not feature a world record in the 400 freestyle relay. Swimmers from other countries were all but handing the win to the vaunted French foursome because the U.S. team was without Olympic hero Jason Lezak, who is competing in Israel.
"We pretty much had a new relay," Phelps said of his teammates Ryan Lochte, Matt Grevers and anchor Nathan Adrian. "When we come into a meet, we have a goal to win all three relays. This is a perfect way to end Day 1."
That relay almost didn't get the chance to swim in the final. In the morning prelims, Ricky Berens' suit split in the back when he got on the blocks when he leaned over to stretch.
"It felt like they're was a bunch of extra weight around like a bag of water," he said. "I was trying hard not to focus on the suit. I've never ripped a suit before."
Said Lochte: "I would have been, like, 'Whatever.' I would have swam naked if I had to."
Phelps, who lives in Fells Point, wasn't pleased by his leadoff leg of 47.78, which put the United States in third after the opening 100. Lochte (47.03) kept the U.S. in third but cut the deficit. Grevers (47.61) got the Americans into second and Adrian's anchor (46.79) secured the victory.
The United States won in 3:09.21, and the surprising Russians were 0.31 behind and France took third. Lezak's sensational anchor at the Olympics in Beijing helped take down the French team.
"On paper, they're faster," Lochte said. "But paper doesn't really matter when you step on the blocks. Honestly I feel like we can go up against anyone."
Phelps' coach Bob Bowman called Adrian "the future of our relays" and was visibly excited about the promise of the four working together, and watching them pick up Phelps when he wasn't at his best.
"I love it," Bowman said. "The best thing about this relay is they carried Michael. We need other people to step up."
Phelps, who will swim three individual races here, had a mature two-word answer when asked whether the other three swimmers carried him.
"They did," he said, smiling.