By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 13. THEY share the world record and staged epic duels at last year's World Championships and at the United States Olympic Trials. Now, Ryan Lochte and Aaron Peirsol are the top qualifiers heading into the semifinal round of the 200 backstroke. Like that scenario wasn't going to unfold.
Swimming in the last of six preliminary heats, Lochte turned in a time of 1:56.29 to qualify just ahead of Peirsol, who has already defended his Olympic title in the 100 backstroke. Peirsol generated a time of 1:56.35. For Lochte, it was the first swim of his double, which also included the preliminaries of the 200 individual medley.
The silver medalist in the 200 back at the Athens Olympics, Austria's Markus Rogan was the third-fastest qualifier as he won the fourth heat in 1:56.64. Russian Arkady Vyatchanin, the bronze medalist in the 100 back with Aussie Hayden Stoeckel, was third in 1:56.97. Great Britain's Gregor Tait was next in 1:57.03 and Stoeckel took sixth in 1:57.15.
Japan's Ryosuke Irie, a contender for a medal, occupied the seventh position after moving through the prelims in 1:57.68. He was followed by Croatia's Gordan Kozulj (1:57.81) and Australia's Ashley Delaney (1:57.87). Also cracking the 1:58 barrier was Romania's Razvan Florea, who qualified in the 10th slot with a mark of 1:57.97.
Rounding out the field for the semifinals were Germany's Helge Meeuw (1:58.42), who bombed out of the 100 back, Italy's Damiano Lestingi (1:58.53), South African George du Rand (1:58.62), Russian Stanislav Donets (1:58.68), Canada's Keith Beavers (1:58.84) and Canada's Tobias Oriwol (1:58.94).