LONDON • Michael Phelps barely qualified in the 400-meter individual medley, Olympic champion Park Tae-hwan was disqualified and world record-holder Paul Biedermann failed to make the final in a surprising first day of swimming at the London Games on Saturday.
Phelps’ slow preliminary time was the biggest shocker of all. The 14-time gold medalist squeaked into the last spot in the eight-man final by seven-hundredths of a second, saying, "That one didn’t feel too good."
Queen Elizabeth appeared briefly at the Aquatics Centre, but the biggest buzz involved the big names who struggled.
South Korea’s Park won his 400 freestyle preliminary heat, but was disqualified for a false start. Biedermann of Germany won’t swim in the evening final. Defending Olympic champion Stephanie Rice took the next-to-last spot in the women’s 400 IM.
"That’s the Olympics," said Canadian Ryan Cochrane, who barely reached the 400 free final himself. "It’s always a surprise, every single heat. You just have to focus on your own race."
Phelps, the two-time defending Olympic champion, won his 400 IM heat in 4 minutes, 13.33 seconds with a time that was well off his world record of 4:03.84 set four years ago in Beijing, when Phelps won a record eight gold medals.
But it was only good enough to secure the last spot in the evening final, when Phelps will swim in Lane 8 instead of the middle of the pool. He breathes to his right, so he won’t see the field coming home.
"The only thing that matters is just getting a spot in," he said. "You can’t win the gold medal from the morning."
In the 400 IM, Kosuke Hagino of Japan led the way in 4:10.01, a national record. Chad le Clos of South Africa was second at 4:12.24, and Ryan Lochte of the United States advanced in third at 4:12.35.
Phelps’ time was just fast enough to keep Laszlo Cseh of Hungary, the silver medalist in Beijing, out of the final. Cseh was ninth overall after leading Phelps during their heat before the American closed on the last lap of freestyle to beat him to the wall.
"I didn’t expect those guys to go that fast in their heat," Phelps said. "I was slower this morning than I was four years ago."
Phelps’ time in the grueling event that he had vowed not to swim again after Beijing took some of the luster off what was expected to be a showdown between him and Lochte for gold.
"You can’t count him out," Lochte said of Phelps. "Even though he just squeaked in eighth, he’s a racer. We’re going to do everything we can to go 1-2 tonight."
Lochte, the bronze medalist in Beijing, has won the 400 IM at the last two world championships.
"My first race is always the worst one," he said. "I’m glad I got the cobwebs out."
Kosuke Kitajima of Japan opened his bid to become the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three consecutive Olympics. He qualified second-quickest in the 100 breaststroke at 59.63 seconds behind Christian Sprenger of Australia in 59.62.
"I don’t have any pressure, I just try to enjoy," Kitajima said. "It felt so good. It was good for my first race. I will try to improve in the semifinals."
Giedrius Titenis of Lithuania was third at 59.68. Twelve of the 16 swimmers who reached the semifinals swam under 1 minute.
American Brendan Hansen, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist who was fourth in Beijing, qualified 10th at 59.93. His teammate, Eric Shanteau, was 11th at 59.96.
"Everybody seemed to be going out real fast in the first 50," Hansen said. "I wanted to come home strong. I let everybody know that last 50 is going to be there. This race is going to be won in the last 15 meters."
Missing from the 100 breast was Alexander Dale Oen of Norway, the current world champion who would have been a medal contender in these games. He died in April of cardiac arrest at 26 during a training camp in Arizona.Next Page >
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