(By Paul Virgo) Rome, April 12 - The golden girl of Italian swimming, Federica Pellegrini, will not be defending the 200 and 400 metres freestyle titles she won in 2009 and 2011 at this year's world championships in Barcelona in August. But the 24-year-old will be a dark-horse contender in the backstroke - an event she is new to. Pellegrini is in the middle of a sort of 12-month sabbatical she is taking after flopping at the 2012 London Olympics. She has not taken the year off completely, but she is limiting the amount of competition she does and the intensity of her training to recharge her mental and physical batteries. The sabbatical has also featured an experiment with a new stroke that has produced stunning results for the 2008 200m freestyle Olympic champion. In only her second race in the 200m backstroke at the Italian spring championships in Riccione, Pellegrini clocked a time of two minutes 8.05 seconds. That was the second-fastest time of the year so far, only bettered by the 2:07.34 of America's 17-year-old four-time Olympic champion Missy Franklin. It also took Pellegrini within two hundredths of a second of the Italian record of the recently retired Alessia Filippi and earned her a place among the backstroke contenders in Barcelona. "I'm really surprised by the time," said Pellegrini, who is a favourite with sponsors thanks to her pin-up looks. "I'd been thinking about qualifying for the world championships, but I thought attacking the world record was a dream," added the athlete, who also won the 100m backstroke in Riccione. She added that the strong showing in the backstroke was the "fruit" of her moving to France to resume training with her former coach Phillippe Lucas. Lucas, the former coach of Pellegrini's ex-rival Laure Manaudou, prepared her for the 2011 world championships in Shanghai, where she retained both the 200m and 400m freestyle titles she won in Rome in 2009 with world record times. But they separated after Shanghai as Pellegrini no longer wanted to live in Paris to work with Lucas and the coach refused to move to the swimmer's base in Verona. A year after Shanghai Pellegrini could do no better than fifth in the 200m and 400m freestyle at the London Olympics. After the 2013 world championships, Pellegrini is set to start focusing on her main events again, with the ultimate aim being gold in the 200m and 400m freestyle at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro. In the meantime she is enjoying being able to prepare for some freestyle relay events and a venture in the backstroke in Barcelona, relatively stress free. "We'll see what happens (in the backstroke in Barcelona)," she said. "Otherwise, what fun would it be?". She also showed she has not lost her touch in her old stroke at the Italian spring championships though, winning the 200m freestyle in a time of 1:56.51.