Olympics: Phelps barely qualifies for 400-m. individual medley

U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps competes in the men's 400-meter individual medley heats swimming event at the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 28, 2012 in London. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Last Updated 9:28 a.m. ET

(AP) LONDON - Michael Phelps barely qualified in the 400-meter individual medley on the opening day of Olympic swimming Saturday, squeaking into the final by seven-hundredths of a second.

"That one didn't feel too good," he said.

Phelps wasn't the only surprise of the morning at the Aquatics Centre, where Queen Elizabeth appeared briefly.

Olympic champion Park Tae-hwan of South Korea won his 400 freestyle heat, but was disqualified for a false start. Paul Biedermann of Germany, the world record holder in the event, failed to make the final.

"That's the Olympics," said Canadian Ryan Cochrane, who barely made the 400 free final. "It's always a surprise, every single heat. You just have to focus on your own race."

South Korea officially protested defending champion Park Tae-hwan's disqualification. The protest went to FINA's technical swimming committee, which upheld the disqualification. South Korea then took it to a jury of appeal, which will now decide the case.

According to FINA rules, the jury of appeal includes all 22 members of the FINA Bureau, plus honorary members and the FINA president or vice president.

Park was first to touch the wall in his heat Saturday and appeared bewildered when told of the disqualification. "I don't know why," Park said. "I need to speak to my coach to find out."

Sun Yang of China led the heats, while Ryan Cochrane of Canada took the last qualifying position in eighth. Cochrane could miss out on the final later Saturday if Park is reinstated.

FINA rules state: "Any swimmer starting before the starting signal has been given, shall be disqualified. If the starting signal sounds before the disqualification is declared, the race shall continue and the swimmer or swimmers shall be disqualified upon completion of the race."

First night starts with a splash: Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte
The best way to beat Michael Phelps? Keep quiet, says Olympic champion Dara Torres
Michael Phelps drops 200 freestyle, gives up bid for 8 golds in London

Phelps, the two-time defending Olympic champion, won his 400 IM preliminary heat in 4 minutes, 13.33 seconds with a time that was well off his world record of 4:03.84 set four years ago in Beijing, when Phelps won a record eight gold medals.

But it was only good enough to secure the last spot in the evening final, when Phelps will swim in Lane 8 instead of the middle of the pool.

"The only thing that matters is just getting a spot in," he said. "You can't win the gold medal from the morning."

In the 400 IM, Kosuke Hagino of Japan led the way in 4:10.01, a national record. Chad le Clos of South Africa was second at 4:12.24, and Ryan Lochte of the United States advanced in third at 4:12.35.

Phelps' time was just fast enough to keep Laszlo Cseh of Hungary, the silver medalist in Beijing, out of the final. Cseh was ninth overall after leading Phelps during their heat before the American closed on the last lap of freestyle to beat him to the wall.

"I didn't expect those guys to go that fast in their heat," Phelps said. "I was slower this morning than I was four years ago."

Phelps' time in the grueling event that he had vowed not to swim again after Beijing took some of the luster off what was expected to be a showdown between him and Lochte for gold.

"You can't count him out," Lochte said of Phelps. "Even though he just squeaked in eighth, he's a racer. We're going to do everything we can to go 1-2 tonight."

Lochte, the bronze medalist in Beijing, has won the 400 IM at the last two world championships.

"My first race is always the worst one," he said. "I'm glad I got the cobwebs out."

Dana Vollmer had the fastest qualifying time in the 100 butterfly at 56.25 seconds, setting American and Olympic records, to lead 16 women into the evening semifinals.

"I'm really happy with how fast it was and I think it's only going to get faster," she said. "That's kind of a confidence-booster. I'm ready to go."

Lu Ying of China was second in 57.17 and Australian Alicia Coutts was third at 57.36. Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, the world record holder, was fourth at 57.45.

American Claire Donahue moved on in seventh, while British teammates Francesca Hall and Ellen Gandy were eighth and ninth.

Jess Schipper of Australia, the bronze medalist four years ago, was 24th and missed the semifinals by eight spots.

In the 400 free, Sun Yang of China qualified fastest in 3:45.07. American Peter Vanderkaay was second at 3:45.80, followed by his teammates Conor Dwyer in 3:46.24.

Park was surprised by his DQ, saying, "I don't know why" after he walked off the deck. In Beijing, he became South Korea's first swimming gold medalist and then won the world title in Shanghai last year.

Biedermann washed out for the second straight Olympics. He didn't make it out of the heats in Beijing. He set the world record at the 2009 world meet in Rome at the height of the high-tech body suit craze. Those suits have since been banned.

Comments