Michael Phelps competes in the 400-meter individual medley. (Martin Bureau / AFP/Getty…)
LONDON -- Michael Phelps narrowly avoided what would have been a massive embarrassment on the opening morning of the London Olympics, earning the eighth and final qualifying spot in the men's 400-meter individual medley Saturday morning.
Phelps won the event in 2004 and 2008 -- one of his record eight gold medals in Beijing -- and he is trying to become the first man to win the same event in three consecutive Olympics. Yet he came within seven-hundredths of a second of not making the final at all.
"The only thing that matters is getting a spot," Phelps said. "You can't win a gold medal in the morning."
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Phelps won what turned out to be the slowest of the three seeded heats. After he swam, he thought he would finish "fourth or fifth" overall.
His time of 4:13.33 was more than five seconds slower than his time at the U.S. Olympic trials and almost 10 seconds slower than the world record he set four years ago.
Ryan Lochte, who beat Phelps in the event at the Olympic trials, swam 4:12.35 to finish third. Lochte would not discount Phelps' chances in Saturday night's finals.
"It's hard," Lochte said. "It's a tough field. He's in. You can't count him out. He's a racer.
"We're going to do everything we can to go 1-2 tonight."
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