By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 13. IT'S not often that Michael Phelps finds himself not at the top of the standings, but that's where he sits after the preliminaries of the 200 individual medley. And, that's a good sign, an indication that the man who has made Olympic history and is chasing more is handling his program with care.
The world-record holder in the event and the defending Olympic champion, Phelps coasted to a performance of 1:58.65 in his prelim swim. That effort was good for sixth heading into the semifinals, though that place is assuredly going to rise when Phelps takes the block during the morning session. Phelps has already won five gold medals and set five world records in Beijing.
Earning the top seed for the semifinals was American Ryan Lochte, the silver medalist in the event at the 2004 Games in Athens. Less than an hour after qualifying first in the 200 backstroke, Lochte returned to the pool at the Water Cube and touched the wall in 1:58.15 in the medley. Lochte is the second-fastest man in the discipline's history.
"I like my chances (against Michael)," Lochte said. "I did the same schedule at Trials and this time I'm more rested. I had a stomach disorder that just ended two days ago. I'm feeling really good."
Grabbing the third position for the semifinals was Hungarian Laszlo Cseh, the silver medalist in the 400 IM. Cseh won his heat in 1:58.29 and was followed in the pecking order by Brazil's Thiago Pereira (1:58.41). Taking the fourth and fifth slots were Japan's Ken Takakuwa (1:58.51) and Barbados' Bradley Ally (1:58.57).
Italian Alessio Boggiatto (1:58.80) and Canada's Keith Beavers (1:59.19) were seventh and eighth. The other semifinal slots went to Takuro Fujii (1:59.19), South Africa's Darian Townsend (1:59.22), Lithuania's Vytautas Janusaitis (1:59.63), Israel's Gal Nevo (1:59.66), Great Britain's James Goddard (1:59.74) and Liam Tancock (1:59.79), Australia's Leith Brodie (1:59.96) and Austria's Dinko Jukic (2:00.57).