DEBRECEN, Hungary -- Hoping to renew his rivalry with Michael Phelps at the London Olympics, Milorad Cavic marked his return to form after back surgery by winning the 100-meter butterfly at the European swimming championships Saturday.
Also, Olympic champion and world-record holder Federica Pellegrini of Italy cruised to victory in the 200 freestyle, and Paul Biedermann won his third gold of the meet by leading off for Germany in the 4x200 free relay.
Radoslaw Kawecki of Poland won the 200 backstroke in 1:55.28. In non-Olympic events, Mireia Belmonte Garcia took gold in the 1,500 free, fellow Spaniard Mercedes Paris Minguet won the 50 backstroke, and Damir Dugonjic of Slovenia claimed the men's 50 breaststroke.
Cavic had surgery to repair a herniated disk in July 2010, and the Serb failed to qualify for any finals at last year's world championships in Shanghai.
Again showing off his usual technique of a strong first 50, Cavic led by more than half a second at the turn and then held off a charging Laszlo Cseh to finish in a championship record of 51.45 seconds.
"I'm half-tapered coming in here and that gives me a lot of hope," Cavic said. "I had my eye on the competition record."
At the 2008 Beijing Games, Cavic lost by a mere hundredth of a second to Phelps, the closest challenger to the American's record eight golds. Phelps then edged Cavic again in a much-hyped rematch at the 2009 worlds in Rome despite wearing an allegedly inferior swimsuit.
While Cavic's time would have been good for just fourth at last year's worlds -- in a race won by Phelps in 50.71 seconds -- it was a decent showing amid full training two months before the London Games.
"An hour and a half ago, for some reason, I saw 51.4 in my head," Cavic said. "It's a gift I feel I have -- I dream it and I do it. And as long as my dreams keep coming along, I hope I can get under that 51 mark, because I'm going to have to. I don't know how. I don't know what I'm going to fix, but I have to. I've got to figure it out."
Pellegrini got off to a slow start and touched in at 1:56.76 -- nearly four seconds slower than her world record set at the 2009 worlds at the height of the high-tech bodysuit era, and more than a second off the time she won with at the last Euros two years ago just after the high-tech suits were banned.
In London, Pellegrini is expected to be challenged by American teenager Missy Franklin.
"I know I've still got some things to work on with the 200, but this win is still important," said Pellegrini, who is also the two-time world champion in the 400. "I'm unbeaten in this race since 2008, and I hope to keep it that way in two months."