SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The second-to-last question of the brief media session on the pool deck brought forth a big smile from Michael Phelps on Saturday night.
"Michael, is Aaron your Kryptonite?"
The human Kryptonite would be Aaron Peirsol. Peirsol and Phelps have a spirited rivalry in the backstroke -- a lot like Phelps and Ian Crocker in the 100-meter butterfly.
One difference: Peirsol always prevails in his specialty. This time, the touch was the decider at the Santa Clara International Invitational as Peirsol won the 200 backstroke in 1 minute 55.81 seconds and Phelps took second in 1:55.84.
"I had enough left to hold him off a little bit," Peirsol said. "Glad it wasn't 203 meters or he would have had me."
Oh yes, and as for the Kryptonite issue.
"I guess. It feels like every time I get in the water, he snakes me on the finish," said Phelps, who earlier won the 100 butterfly in a meet-record 51.61 seconds. "He absolutely destroys me at turns.
"Like I said, I love racing him. He's a great competitor, a hard racer and he's definitely one of my favorites.
" . . . I'm still winless, though. I still want that win. I'll keep trying."
The 200 backstroke was one of seven individual meet records on Day 3 of this tune-up for the upcoming U.S. Olympic swim trials. That included Peter Vanderkaay's American record in the 400 meters of 3:43.82. The previous mark (3:44.11) was set by Klete Keller in 2004.
Vanderkaay is a man of few words, however, he used just enough beforehand to tip off his Club Wolverine coaches Bob Bowman and Jon Urbanchek.
"He said, 'I think I'm going for it,' " Urbanchek said.
Not quite smack-down talk. But it was significant for Vanderkaay, who later said, "I think I can go faster."
That was the theme of the night.
Peirsol could have stayed home in Austin, Texas, but wanted to test himself before trials, knowing Phelps would be here. And Ryan Lochte, who upset him in the 200 backstroke at the World Championships last year, had been scheduled to appear but withdrew because of a high-ankle sprain.
Renewed competition was an adjustment for Peirsol, who was raised in Orange County.
"For a long time, I wasn't used to being raced," Peirsol said. "After Lenny [Krayzelburg], I was kind of on my own for a while. It was hard to get used to racing people again in that race."
Phelps and Peirsol are expert closers. "The way he came home was a little silly," Peirsol said.
Phelps seemed like a different person from Friday night, in which he was openly displeased about his backstroke in the 400 individual medley.
"I just came out and I was very open-minded today," he said. "I went back to the basics. I went back to preparing and focusing myself for these races. I think tonight shows what happens when I'm actually thinking and focused about something."
It turned out Phelps had some difficulty with his Speedo LZR Racer on Friday when the drawstring broke shortly before the race, forcing a mad scramble. He wore an older generation of Speedo on Saturday and Bowman was asked in jest if the new high-tech suit was getting tossed.
"No. But it makes me feel good he wasn't wearing it and he still swam fast," Bowman said.