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Canada's Annamay Pierse now holds both the long and short course world records in the women's 200-metre breaststroke. ((Al Bello/Getty Images) )

Canada's Annamay Pierse became an even bigger player on the international stage Thursday, shattering the world record in the women's 200-metre breaststroke.

Pierse, an Edmontonian now residing in Vancouver, set a new standard of two minutes 20.12 seconds in the semifinals at the world aquatics championships in Rome.

"I knew I had it in me and I knew I was going to have a great swim," she said.

The previous world record of 2:20.22 was set by Rebecca Soni of the United States at last summer's Beijing Olympics.

Soni finished first (2:20.93) in her heat and second overall, setting up what promises to be a speedy showdown with Pierse in Friday's final.

"I think she is the girl to beat," Swimming Canada's chief executive officer Pierre Lafontaine said of Pierse.

"She is certainly in the position to get a medal. But there are five girls in that position right now."

Toronto native Martha McCabe also advanced to the final as the sixth swiftest (2:22.75).

Pierse set the tone in the preliminary round earlier in the day by breaking the world championship record.

The 25-year-old looked relaxed as she stepped onto the block, which translated well into her heat.

"She certainly looked very poised," Lafontaine said.

Pierse showed superior stamina off her final turn, surging ahead of the field to finish more than two seconds faster than Austria's Mirna Jukic.

"She didn't look like she was over doing anything," Lafontaine said. "She seemed quite together."

Pierse then watched in disbelief as her record time posted on the results board.

Pierse broke the record using the same high-tech suit that has been the centre of controversy at the world championships.

Seven world marks were eclipsed Thursday, bringing the event's staggering total to 29 — four more than in Beijing.

"The suits that are breaking world records are so good that today I am announcing my comeback, effective immediately and ending on Dec. 31, 2009," joked Mark Spitz, winner of seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

'I reached my goal'

The swimwear, which FINA is banning, is responsible for most of the records at Rome.

Three other world marks fell Thursday on the women's side.

Australia's Jessicah Schipper set the new 200 butterfly standard with a time of 2:03.41; Montreal's Audrey Lacroix finished seventh in a Canadian record time of 2:05.95.

"I reached my goal by making the final and I just wanted to have a good swim and, hopefully, get a best time and that is what I did," she said.

"It's been a very exciting meet," Schipper exclaimed. "It's been very fast.

"But we all knew it was going to be fast coming in here, so nobody can say that they didn't expect this.

'I think that the world records, while they may have been helped with the suits, it still has a lot to do with the swimmer and the work you have put in."

In the 50 backstroke, Zhao Jin raced to a time of 27.06, bettering Russia's Anastasia Zueva effort by nearly half a second.

The Chinese women dominated in the 4x200 freestyle, obliterating the world record set at Beijing by Australia with a blistering time of 7:42.08 seconds.

Canada's entry of Montreal's Genevieve Saumur, Toronto's Julia Wilkinson, Alexandra Gabor of Whitehorse and Toronto's Heather MacLean was eighth, but clocked a Canadian record of 7:49.14.

With files from The Canadian Press