By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 29. LET'S face it. If Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte don't grab the two qualifications for Beijing in the 400 individual medley, the apocalypse might be upon us. Simply, those two men are superior to the rest of the field and proved that fact during the morning preliminaries with a pair of strong opening statements.
Swimming in the last two of seven heats, Lochte and Phelps put up blanket times, each cruising through their morning efforts. Lochte, the silver medalist in the event at last year's World Championships, clocked the fastest time of the prelim session, an outing of 4:13.38 that currently stands as the fourth-best time in the world. A heat later, Phelps, the reigning world and Olympic champ and world-record holder, cooked the opening two legs before settling down and eventually touching in 4:13.43.
"It was my first race, so I was just getting a feel for the pool and the competition," Lochte said. "Just keep on watching, it will be a good show."
When Phelps and Lochte climb the blocks tonight, the 4:06.22 world record will likely have just a few additional minutes of life. Based on their morning performances, both men have the ability to be in the 4:05-range, perhaps faster. While the time is uncertain, what is guaranteed is this: One hell of a head-to-head battle is brewing.
"I'm not too happy, but it's a morning swim, so hopefully it will go well tonight," Phelps said. "It was a prelim swim, and slower than I wanted for a prelim swim. It's slower than I went at Worlds in the morning, but hopefully I can go a little faster tonight."
The third-fastest swim of the morning was registered by veteran Robert Margalis, who won the first of the three circle-seeded heats with a mark of 4:15.10. The former University of Georgia standout looked strong, as did Alex Vanderkaay. The third of the four swimming brothers notched the fourth-quickest time of the session when he finished behind Lochte in 4:16.99. It was a solid start for the University of Michigan product, who could make a run at a 200 butterfly berth later in the week.
The remainder of the field for the championship final was rounded out by Tyler Clary (4:17.46), fresh off a sterling freshman year at Michigan, Jack Brown (4:18.44), Clark Burckle (4:18.78) and Dustin McLarty (4:21.05).
Video Footage Removed Due to NBC Restrictions
Go to Swimming World's 2008 Olympics Landing Page for the most comprehensive coverage of the meet on the Internet.