By John Lohn
MEN'S 400 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY
LONG BEACH, July 7. HERE'S a shock: Michael Phelps easily qualified for the top slot in the 400 IM, coasting through his eight-lap foray in 4:16.11.
The man who will chase Mark Spitz's seven gold medals from the Munich Olympics took early command of his heat and held off Ryan Lochte, who qualified for the finals in second (4:19.75).
The world-record holder in the event and reigning world champ, Phelps is a lock to advance to Athens. The question is who will snare the second slot, Lochte or Erik Vendt. Both swimmers should make a run at a sub-4:13 clocking.
Vendt, the second-fastest American in history, should have an advantage, having claimed silver at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. But Lochte enjoyed a solid NCAA swimmer for the University of Florida and appeared strong in lane five, while swimming next to Phelps.
Eric Shanteau qualified fourth in 4:20.16 and was followed by Patrick Mellors (4:20.70), former Olympian Tom Wilkens (4:22.39), Eric Donnelly (4:24.57) and Paul Fahey (4:24.82).
PREDICTION: Phelps prevails convincingly, but misses out on his global standard of 4:09.09. With a schedule featuring six events, there's no need to expend excessive energy. As for second, we'll go with Vendt and his experience in a tight battle over Lochte.