ROME -- Milorad Cavic is tired of hearing about Michael Phelps having to compete in a supposedly inferior swimsuit. The Serb even offered to buy his American rival one of the latest models if that's what it takes to even the playing field for their Saturday night rematch in the 100-meter butterfly.
Cavic's comments, coming after both swimmers easily advanced in Friday morning preliminaries, sets up a tantalizing rematch of their memorable race at the Beijing Olympics, which Phelps won by a hundredth of a second on his way to capturing a record eight gold medals.
Cavic, who wears the Arena X-Glide, said the perception that Phelps has no choice except to stick with the Speedo LZR Racer because of sponsorship commitments is "a complete lie."
"I know he's making a lot of money from Speedo," Cavic said. "It's loyalty. But throughout all my experiences, I've learned this -- free will is a gift with a price tag, and whatever you choose to do you're going to pay, but how much you're going to pay is really dependent on you."
Cavic said Arena would provide Phelps one of its polyurethane suits "within the hour." The X-Glide and a similar suit by Jaked are considered fastest at these championships, where a staggering 29 world records were set through the first five days.
Phelps hustled through the mixed zone without stopping to speak to reporters. His coach, Bob Bowman, shrugged off Cavic's comments.
"He's a very good swimmer, a super-talented swimmer and he's free to say whatever he wants," Bowman said. "We know that Michael usually lets his swimming do his talking, and we'll know by [Saturday] night what the deal is."
Speedo allowed its athletes to switch to another suit if they thought it would improve their chances in Rome. But Phelps, who has been sponsored by Speedo since he was a teenager and earns millions from the company, decided to stick with the LZR.
"If Mike wants an Arena, he just has to say it," Cavic said. "If he wants a Jaked and they don't want to give it to him free, I'll buy it for him. He has options. I think in the media it's been portrayed that he has no option, he has to swim for [Speedo]. It's a complete lie."
Cavic still believes he won the 100 fly at the Olympics, even though both timing devices and high-resolution photographs appear to show conclusively that Phelps touched first. Cavic rekindled the issue this week, insisting that he was ahead at the wall but didn't put enough pressure on the timing touchpad, so it recorded Phelps as the winner.
The Serb has been yearning for a rematch ever since Beijing, and he doesn't want the suits to overshadow what happens in the water.
"I think there's three options for Michael," Cavic said. "The first option is to use the suit that he's wearing, the second option is to get one of these [polyurethane] suits, which I guarantee Arena will provide him within the hour, as soon as he wants. The third option would actually be a dream of mine, to have the whole final everybody swimming in briefs. I swear to God, this is it, this is what I want, but this is the most unrealistic of all scenarios."
At the U.S. nationals in early July, Phelps lowered the world record in the 100 fly to 50.22 seconds. But nearly everyone believes it will take the first sub-50 performance in history to have any chance of winning gold in Rome.
Cavic was fastest in morning prelims with a time of 50.56. Phelps won his heat with one of his patented late charges and tied for second overall with teammate Tyler McGill at 50.90.
Bowman was livid after his swimmer was beaten by Germany's Paul Biedermann in the 200 freestyle, saying the X-Glide gave the winner a huge technological edge. Bowman even threatened to pull Phelps from future international meets unless FINA speeds up its ban on all bodysuits, which goes into effect next year.
Cavic found Bowman's comments a bit hypocritical, especially since the whole swimsuit debate started with the introduction of the LZR Racer in early 2008, which led American team leader Mark Schubert to declare that anyone who wanted to win gold at the Olympics should switch to Speedo -- even if they had a deal with another company.
At these world championships, Schubert led the fight to get bodysuits banned, a measure approved by the FINA congress just before the start of the swimming competition.
"Last year at the height of the suit controversy, Mark Schubert said, 'Do you want the money or do you want the win?' " Cavic said. "Michael Phelps has plenty of money. Who knows what it is? I think it's just loyalty and he's very gracious for everything Speedo has done for him."
Phelps will skip a chance to meet with Pope Benedict XVI, preferring to rest up for his final individual race.
Benedict is scheduled to host about 100 swimmers Saturday at Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence. Phelps was among those invited, and at least one media report said he planned to attend, but Bowman said the swimmer will be resting after three races Friday and the final of the 100-meter butterfly Saturday night.
There was a bit of a stunner in the morning. Forty-two-year-old American Dara Torres and Australian star Libby Trickett failed to advance in the preliminaries of the 50 butterfly. They tied for 17th at 26.41 -- one spot out of making the evening semifinals.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.