- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 9, 2008

UPDATED:

BEIJING – Michael Phelps‘ quest for eight gold medals started tonight with an Olympic record.

Swimming the final heat of the 400-meter individual medley, Phelps time of 4 minutes, 7.82 seconds broke his record of 4:08.26 set in the Athens Games.

Ryan Lochte (4:10.33) was the fourth-fastest qualifier. The final is at 10:03 p.m. EDT Sunday.

Meanwhile, Towson’s Katie Hoff qualified second in the 400 IM, behind 15-year old teammate Elizabeth Beisel.

Phelps is attempting to break Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in one Olympiad.

“I’m happy to get the first-race jitters out,” Phelps said. “It’s the first race and its probably one of the most important. I’m pretty satisfied with my time. I didn’t think I would be that fast in the prelims.”

Phelps was on world record pace early on and was in cruise control from the 50-meter point forward. Going out fast was his strategy.

“That was something I really wanted to do after watching the first three heats,” he said. “I wanted to be in the middle of the pool tomorrow and hopefully that will give me an advantage.”

Phelps won the 400 IM in Athens, the 2007 World Championships and at the trials this summer, where he set a new world record (4:05.25).

Lochte traded the lead with Brazil’s Thiago Pereira before defeating Canada’s Brian Johns by 1.18 seconds.

“It felt good,” Lochte said. “I’m glad I got that out of the way and basically start my racing. It’s over and now I have to get ready for tomorrow. I kind of wanted to go either first or second. It was a pretty smooth swim for me so I’ll take it.”

Beisel, who will turn 16 later this month, was the sensation of the trials and she continued her fine form by posting a time of 4:34.55. Hoff was second in 4:34.63.

“I’m not one to take it too hard, so I wanted to focus on myself,” Hoff said. “My heart was beating a little bit in the ready room, but I breathed through it.” The women’s 400 IM final is loaded. In addition to Beisel and Hoff, Australia’s Stephanie Rice (fourth-fasted) and Zimbawae’s Kirsty Coventry qualified seventh.

Rice is the pick of some to win the race, but she awoke Saturday with a sore shoulder.

“It got a bit inflamed this morning, but I didn’t feel it when I was swimming,” she said. “I’m looking forward to fine tuning everything in the process.”

American Larsen Jensen was the top qualifier in the 400 free by .22 seconds over Chinas Lin Zhang. Peter Vanderkaay qualified sixth. In the women’s 100 butterfly, Christine Magnuson and Elaine Breeden moved onto the finals.

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