2012 London Olympics: Kosuke Hagino With Asian Record to Lead 400 IM; Phelps Underperforms

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LONDON, England, July 28. THE first day of preliminary qualifying at the 2012 London Olympics kicked off with a swift swim from Japan's Kosuke Hagino, while the Battle of the Titans between Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps nearly missed out on occurring this evening in the men's 400 IM.

Hagino, out of heat three of five, scorched the pool with a 4:10.01. That swim clipped his Asian and Japanese record of 4:10.26 set in April of this year in Tokyo, and lined him up to potentially become the first Japanese swimmer to ever win the distance medley for the men. Japan actually has never medaled in the men's 400 IM, and Hagino definitely put himself in position to end that drought. His time puts him seventh-fastest all time in the event's history.

“It was faster than I expected so I would like to improve in the afternoon,” Hagino said. “I broke national record in April and since then I just trained for the Olympics. It is just my personal best. I would like to improve for this afternoon. I think I can improve in the last part, freestyle.”

South Africa's Chad Le Clos clipped Ryan Lochte of the U.S. in the fifth-and-final heat with a 4:12.24 to 4:12.35. South Africa has never medaled in the event, and Locthe is looking to better his bronze-medal finish from 2008.

“Didn't feel so good but that was my first race,” Lochte said. “My first race is always the worst. I am glad I got the cobwebs off. What I had to do was get a lane for tonight so I am pretty happy.”

Brazil's Thiago Pereira raced to fourth in 4:12.39, while Australia's Thomas Fraser-Holmes (4:12.66), Italy's Luca Marin (4:13.02) and Japan's Yuya Horihata (4:13.09) qualified fifth through seventh. Brazil's last medal in this event came with a silver from Ricardo Prado at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, while Australia has never medaled in the event. Italy's Luca Sacchi provided a bronze in 1992.

Surprisingly, heat four proved to be comparatively slow as Phelps nearly missed finals completely with an eighth-ranked 4:13.33. After going out under world-record pace, Phelps wound up racing Hungary's Laszlo Cseh throughout the rest of the swim and almost lost his chance to become the first man to ever threepeat an event.

“When I saw the time (4:13.33) I was like, oh. It is going to be a challenge.,” Phelps said. “I just want to get in the water and race. I will get in the water tonight and have fun and that's what I will do.”

Cseh, meanwhile, surprisingly missed finals with a 4:13.40. He had been looking to better his bronze (2004) and silver (2008) finishes from the previous two Olympic cycles.

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