Phelps struggles in 400 IM qualifying

BY foxsports • July 28, 2012

Possibly the greatest Olympian of all time and certainly the greatest Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps, almost failed to qualify in his signature event on Day 1 of the 2012 Games in London.

“The only thing that matters is to get a spot,” Phelps said, somewhat unconvincingly.

He did, just barely.

Phelps slid into the eighth and final spot of Saturday’s finals of the 400-meter individual medley by just barely touching out Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh in morning preliminaries.

Another gold-medal contender, American Ryan Lochte, qualified third behind Kosuke Hagino of Japan and Russia’s Chad le Clos.

“You know what? It’s hard. It’s a tough field,” Lochte said. “But (Phelps) is in so you can’t count him out even though he just squeaked in at eighth. He’s a racer.”

One of the biggest stories of the Games was the rivalry between Lochte and Phelps, which was supposed to kick off with a bang with the 400 IM. So big was the rivalry, so intense the event that I compared them to Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

American fans better hope Phelps was pulling the old rope-a-dope.

Phelps certainly looked slow and lackadaisical in the water, trailing Cseh for parts before out-touching him at the wall. It is common for swimmers, especially swimmers with as many events on their programs as Phelps and Lochte, to be tactical in their preliminary swims. They do not go all out because a) They do not need to swim crazy times to qualify and b) They are saving for finals later as well as what awaits in the grueling week ahead.

Phelps is entered in four individual events and is scheduled to swim three relays. But he was swimming more events in Beijing and almost always dominated prelims.

This may be due partially to age. He acknowledged Thursday that recovery is more difficult this time around, and he also has talked repeatedly about how until the last year or so his training had not been as consistent.

Despite that Phelps was expected to win anywhere between 3-7 gold medals while in London. He certainly was expected to reach the finals in all of them.

As Phelps talked immediately afterward and before final results were known, he did not seem to realize how close he had cut it. He initially guessed he had qualified between fourth and sixth.

Using his logic, solid logic, all he had to do was get in to have a chance.

He did, just barely.

Now, later on this first day in London, we’ll see what he’s made of, how he swims from that outside lane and how doggedly the greatest swimmer ever fights to retain that title.

He’s in, and so he has a chance.

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