Swimmer Michael Phelps speaks during a press conference at the London Games.
LONDON - Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are set for tonight's heavyweight showdown, although Phelps won't get an inside lane based on his slow time in preliminary heats.
Phelps was the eighth and final swimmer to make tonight's final in the 400-meter individual medal, winning his heat in 4:13.33. Lochte posted the third fastest time in 4:12.35 behind Japan's Kosuke Hagino and South Africa's Chad le Clos.
Phelps didn't seem too concerned immediately after the prelim.
"I was slower this morning than I was four years ago," Phelps said. "The only thing that matters is getting a spot in. You can't win a gold medal from the morning."
Lochte said he didn't have a great race either.
"It didn't feel so good," he said. "But that was my first race and my first race never goes that well. I'm glad I got that out of the way."
When asked about Phelps, Lochte said, "It's hard. It's a tough field. But he's in. You can't count him out."
Phelps can be the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three consecutive Olympics, but Lochte beat Phelps in this event at the Olympic trials and won gold in it at the world championships in 2009 and 2011. Lochte won bronze in the 400 IM in Beijing.
At trials, Phelps got off well in the butterfly leg but faded in the backstroke, Lochte's specialty (he is the defending Olympic champ in the 200 back). Lochte was almost two seconds clear of Phelps at the final turn and Phelps made up only about a second of that in the frantic final 50 meters.
Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, who won silver in Beijing in the 400 IM, didn't advance out of the prelims.
Update 10:25 a.m.
Michael Phelps finishes first in his heat of the men's 400-meter individual medley, slipping past Laszlo Cseh of Hungary in a slow 4:13.33. Phelps' world record is 4:03.84.
We don't have to wait long for one of the most anticipated matchups of the Games - Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte.
The two American swimmers will swim their preliminary heats for the 400-meter individual medley around 10 a.m. London time this morning (five hours ahead of Eastern time). They are expected to qualify first and second, giving them the middle lanes for tonight's final.
Back at the U.S. swim trials last month, Lochte beat Phelps in this event (and then Phelps beat Lochte head-to-head in their other two races in Omaha). This will be the first of two meetings for the rivals in London.
Also this morning, the women's 4x100-meter freestyle relay team will have its preliminary heat. Natalie Coughlin is a member of that relay, and this is likely her only event these Olympics.
Coughlin is an 11-time Olympic medalist, and if she wins her 12th medal, she will be tied with swimmersJenny Thompson and Dara Torres as the most decorated female U.S. Olympian. The women's 4x100 free relay final is tonight at 8:40 p.m. London time.
Nicole Auerbach and Erik Brady, USA TODAY