Jason Lezak, above, wants Michael Phelps on the relay team. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)
LONDON -- After Michael Phelps' two poor swims on the first day of the Olympics, would the United States be better off without him in the 400-meter freestyle relay?
Jason Lezak, the U.S. relay hero in the Beijing Olympics, says no.
"I don't think that should be a question," Lezak said.
The U.S. fielded a B team in Sunday morning's relay heats, with Lezak, Jimmy Feigen, Matt Grevers and Ricky Berens posting the second-fastest qualifying time.
The U.S. team for Sunday night's finals is expected to include Nathan Adrian and Cullen Jones, the top two finishers in the 100 meters at the Olympic trials. Neither Phelps nor Ryan Lochte swam the event at trials, but each is eligible to swim on the relay team.
Lochte, who whipped Phelps in the 400 individual medley Saturday, would appear a logical choice for U.S. men's coach Gregg Troy. Lezak scoffed at the notion that Phelps' dismal performance Saturday -- barely qualifying for the finals, then failing to medal -- ought to outweigh his track record.
"The 400 IM and the 100 free have nothing in common," Lezak said. "If I'm the coach, Michael is on the relay -- 100%, no question."
Lezak, 36, whose stirring anchor leg gave the United States a come-from-behind victory in Beijing, also swam the final leg Sunday morning. He inherited the lead, but Australian phenom James Magnussen passed him.
"I tried to do the best I could to hold him off," Lezak said. "At this point, he's ahead of the world."
Magnussen, 21, is the star of an Australian team that has called itself "weapons of mass destruction." Even with Magnussen swimming in qualifying and the U.S. fielding a B team, the Aussies won the heat by three-tenths of a second.
Lezak is not expected to swim Sunday night, but he would get a medal if the U.S. does. That would give him eight career Olympic medals -- fifth all-time among American male swimmers for now, and sixth assuming Lochte passes him this week.
"If that was my last swim," Lezak said, "I laid it out there and put the team in position to medal."
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