Michael Phelps, winner of 14 Olympic gold medals including a record 8 at the 2009 Beijing Olympics, looked vulnerable in the Santa Clara International Grand Prix swim meet.

The Bay Area event was simply a tune-up for Phelps, who will be competing at the world championships next month in Shanghai on July 24-31. However, Phelps showed vulnerability in one of his strongest events only a month before the championships.

Phelps only finished a tenth of a second behind Australia's Nicholas D'Arcy, who hasn't won anything significant on the international level.

I would have liked to get the win and end the drought of getting my butt kicked every race, but Nick and I have had some good races over the past couple years and he's definitely a tough competitor and he finishes really strong, Phelps said following the race.

It was Phelps' third straight loss, and perhaps his most crushing since the 200 meter butterfly is an event he wins regularly with ease.

Still, Phelps said that he believes he is still on track to compete at a high level at the world championships and that the loss was only a step in the process.

I'm actually in a lot better place mentally than I was a couple months ago and a couple weeks ago, Phelps said.

His ultimate goal will be to gear up for the 2012 Olympics that will be held in London next year.

Phelps captured the imaginations of Americans and swimming fans around the world winning eight gold medals in Beijing.

He experienced a dramatic finish at 4x100 meter freestyle relay when teammate Jason Lezak came from behind to beat France's Alain Bernard by the slimmest of margins. Then, on the 100 meter butterfly, Phelps out-touched Milorad Cavic by only 1/100 of a second.

If Phelps hopes to capture the same magic in London as he did in Beijing, he will have to work hard to get back into good racing form. Winning at the world championships in Shanghai next month would be a step in the right direction.