OMAHA, Nebraska (AFP) –
Michael Phelps eased into the semi-finals of the 200m butterfly at the US Olympic swimming trials Wednesday with his 200m free finals showdown with Ryan Lochte looming in the evening.
Phelps, the world record-holder and two-time defending Olympic champion in the 200m fly, won his heat in 1:57.75, matching Thomas Luchsinger for the third-fastest time of the morning behind Bobby Bollier (1:56.69) and Tyler Clary (1:57.23).
He looked all-business as he headed for the warm-down pool, focused not only on his task in the fly semis but also on the 200m free final in which he’ll be seeking his first title of the eight-day trials.
Lochte defeated Phelps in the 400m medley on Monday — both earning London Olympics berths.
Lochte then out-touched the Olympic superstar by two-hundredths of a second in their 200m free semi-final on Tuesday.
“It’s going to be a tough race,” Phelps said of the freestyle final. “It’s probably going to be another close one like that.”
Of course Phelps is no stranger to a jam-packed programme. His 14 Olympic gold medals include his historic eight-gold haul at Beijing four years ago.
A famously fierce competitor, Phelps said he would keep his eye on the main task here — securing Olympic berths.
“It’s about getting spots on the team, that’s the only thing,” he said. “The most important thing for me is to try and secure a spot, and from here I have three to four weeks to prepare myself and get some extra training in there.
“I think it’s going to be a lot better than what it is here.”
Rising star Missy Franklin also set up an evening double as she moved into the semi-finals of the women’s 200m freestyle with the third-fastest time behind Allison Schmitt and Dana Vollmer — who had both already punched their tickets to London.
Franklin, the 17-year-old tipped for Olympic stardom after her breakout performance at the World Championships last year, will be seeking a first Games berth in the 100m backstroke final.
“I still feel full of energy,” Franklin said after her freestyle heat. “Right now, this morning I’m just trying to take it one race at a time.”
Franklin is one of a bevy of talented teenagers in the 100m backstroke final, in which 29-year-old Natalie Coughlin will be battling for a chance to add a third straight Olympic gold medal in the event to her resume.
Katie Hoff, whose ambitious six-event programme at Beijing failed to yield a gold medal, looked doubtful to secure a third straight trip to the Games after she failed to make the 200m free semis, finishing 20th-fastest in the heats.
Hoff, who skipped the 400m medley to focus on freestyle events had already failed to make the 400m free final as she battled a stomach bug.
She still has the 800m free, not one of her strongest events.
In Wednesday’s other finals, Olympic champion Rebecca Soni and world record-holder Jessica Hardy head the field in the women’s 100m breaststroke, and Matt Grevers looked the man to beat in the men’s 100m backstroke.