Beijing: Day 1 Prelims
Michael Phelps books place in lane four for his first final; Jensen leads blistering 400 free field on 3:43.10; Dale Oen 59.41 OR 100 breaststroke as first five men go under minute in Olympic waters; China free quartet downs Rome 1994 record
Men's 400m Medley
Michael Phelps (USA) started his Olympic 2008 campaign as he intends to go on - soaring ahead of rivals in the last heat of the 400m medley on his way to booking lane four for the first of what he intends to be eight finals.
At 100m, he was 0.10sec inside world record pace on butterfly (55.28), then he was 0.02sec over his best speed (1:57.34) after backstroke. The gulf to the pack opened, he took his foot off the gas but managed to cruise to a 4:07.82 Olympic record. Faster than Athens 2004 but down on his world record of 4:05.25.
Phelps, smiling and at ease, said: "I'm pretty satisfied with the time. I didn't think I'd swim that fast in preliminaries. All I know is I want to be in the middle [lane] of the pool tomorrow.
"I saw the first few heats go out, and I kind of wanted to be the top seed for tomorrow, that is all I went out to do. It's going to be a tough race between three or four of us," added the 23-year-old American, on a trajectory to match or exceed the seven-gold-medal achievements of compatriot Mark Spitz in 1972,
Luca Marin (ITA) and Gergo Kis (HUN) followed on in 4:10.22 and 4:10.66 respectively.
That put them in close contention to what unfolded in the first of the fast heats: Laszlo Cseh (HUN) was a class apart on butterfly and backstroke but on breaststroke Alessio Boggiatto (ITA) fought back into contention and then shadowed the Hungarian home. Cseh qualified in 4:09.26, to 4:10.68 for Boggiatto.
In the heat after, Thiago Pereira (BRA) led Ryan Lochte (USA) by a hand on 'fly, back and breast before the American put an end to doubt, cruising home to a comfortable 4:10.33. Brian Johns (CAN) came back hard on freestyle to touch out Pereira 4:11.41 to 4:11.74. With that time, the Brazilian was last man through to the final. A leap up on standards in Athens four years ago, when 4:16.77 was required to make the final. That would have placed 18th in Beijing.
Cseh said the heats efforts promised an explosive final. "I think if someone wants to win this race they are going to have to swim under 4 minutes 05 seconds. "It was a good time, but I am tired now," Cseh said. "I will try everything I can to beat those guys. It's going to be very, very difficult."
Lochte said that only perfection would deny Phelps, adding: "It's going to be a tough one for sure, but I will give him a run for his money."
Of note down in the pack: Bradley Ally (BAR) clocked 4:14.01, off an entry time of 4:20.99, while Gal Nevo (ISR) clocked 4:14.03, off an entry time of 4:24.17.
The heats saw the great Tamas Darnyi drop out of the all-time top 10. Here's how:
Jessicah Schipper (AUS), Cristine Magnuson (USA) and Zhou Yafei (CHN) led qualifiers into the semi-final, with respective efforts of 57.58 for the Dolphin and 57.70 for the American and Chinese. Title favourite Libby Trickett (AUS) looked stiff and appeared to struggle a touch, finishing second in the last heat 0.07sec behind Aurore Mongel (FRA), 58.30 to 58.37. That left the Australian in 12th, while Jemma Lowe (GBR) was last into the semis on 58.49. In 2004, it took a 59.84 to make the semis. Lowe's time would have placed her fifth in the final in Athens. Out of the final and a noticeable miss, on 58.53 was Otylia Jedrzejczak (POL). Tao Li (SIN), former Chinese swimmer, clocked 57.77 to go through in fourth place.
Neither of the two most-recent world record holders, Katie Hoff (USA) and Stephanie Rice (AUS) got lane four of the final. The big lane went to 15-year-old Elizabeth Beisel (USA), in 4:34.55 in heat 3 ahead of Alessia Filippi (ITA), on 4:35.11. Just 0.8sec behind Beisel on the clock was Hoff in heat 5, with Rice on 4:35.11, matching the Italian, in heat 4.
Kirsty Coventry was 1.91sec inside world record pace after backstroke before Rice (AUS) opened up a 2m lead on breaststroke and cruised to the win. Watch for 14-year-old Li Xuanxu (CHN), who sprinted into contention over the last 50m freestyle and out-tocuhed Coventry 4:36.35 to 4:36.43 for a place in the final, much to the delight of the near capacity crowd at the 17,000-seater Water Cube.
Last two into the final: Coventry in 7th and Hannah Miley (GBR), on 4:36.56. It took 4:45.16 to make the final in Athens, where Miley's time would have claimed the bronze medal. In Melbourne 2007, it took 4:44.34 to make the world final, and Miley's time would have placed her second. All that progress in so short a space of time.
Men's 100m breaststroke
Alexander Dale Oen (NOR) cracked the Olympic record set by Brendan Hansen (USA) at 1:00.01 in Athens, with the first sub-minute effort in Olympic waters. Right behind his 59.41sec effort were times of 59.89 and 59.96 by Brenton Rickard (AUS) and Cameron van der Burgh (RSA) respectively. Five men dipped below the minute mark: defending champion Kosuke Kitajima (JPN) clocked 59.52 to progress smoothly in second place, with Hugues Duboscq (FRA) third on 59.67. Hansen looked sluggish and finished 10th equal overall, in 1:00.36. Last in was Mark Gangloff (USA) on 1:00.71.
Women's 4x100m freestyle
The Chinese quartet of Zhu Yingwen (54.53), Tang Yi (54.29), Xu Yanwei (55.13) and Pang Jiaying (52.83) set an Asian record of 3:36.78 to lead the way into the final. Pang's best of 54.17 from a standing start is fifth best ever behind Le Jingyi and the dope-suspended Lu Bin and two of Pang's Beijing teammates, Zhu and Xu. The record had stood to the dubious Golden Flowers of Rome 1994, at 3:37.91.
Germany, on 3:37.52, were second through, with Britta Steffen giving no clues as to her true form, racing a 54.17 split that clearly did not tax her, while Australia took third in the first heat on 3:37.81. That left the Dolphin 6th overall, the second heat won by the USA in 3:37.53, ahead of 3:37.61 for a Dutch quartet that included two of the world-record holding foursome. France's Celine Couderc (53.97), Hanna Shcherba-Lorgeril, Ophelie-Cyrielle Etienne and Alena Popchanka set a national record of 3:37.76. Canadians Julia Wilkinson, Erica Morningstar, Genevieve Saumur and Audrey Lacroix also broke their national record with a 3:38.82 effort and Britain's Fran Halsall (54.36), Caitlin McClatchey, Julia Beckett and Melanie Marshall rewrote their national record, in 3:39.18, to take the last place in the final. Jess Sylvester then swam off for a place in the final for Britain and swam faster than Beckett to book a ticket to a real Olympic experience.
The impact of the heats on the all-time top 10 saw the 3:40.57 at which the GDR demoted to 10th best: