Beijing: Swimming star Michael Phelps made an impressive start to his bid for Olympic immortality Saturday, posting a Games record in the heats of the men’s 400 meters individual medley.
Phelps, who established the previous Olympic record in winning gold in Athens four years ago, clocked 4 minutes 07.82 seconds - the fourth-fastest time ever.
It was an impressively smooth performance from the man who lowered his world record in the event to 4:05.25 at the US trials in June, showing that the months of scrutiny leading into the Games haven’t taken a toll.
“Just the first-race jitters,” Phelps said of his pre-race nerves. “But getting that first race under your belt feels really good.
“I didn’t think I’d swim that fast in the preliminaries. 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.”
Phelps easily won his heat before a near-capacity crowd at Beijing’s Water Cube aquatic centre, where the crowd greeted his arrival on deck with enthusiasm but saved their loudest cheers for Chinese competitors.
US swimmer Michael Phelps competes during the men’s 400m individual medley swimming heat at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on 9 August 2008 in Beijing. (AFP Photo)
The 23-year-old American, who is gunning for compatriot Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals at one Games, was never challenged, with Italian Luca Marin second-fastest in his heat in 4:10.22.
Hungarian Laszlo Cseh, who set the European record at a meeting in France in June, was the second-fastest qualifier for Sunday morning’s final, winning his heat in 4:09.26.
Marin was third-fastest overall and American Ryan Lochte, reckoned one of the chief challengers to Phelps in both the 400m and 200m medleys, was fourth-fastest overall, winning his heat in 4:10.33.
Cseh said the times 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,” he said.
“It was a good time, but I am tired now,” Cseh admitted. “I will try everything I can to beat those guys. It’s going to be very, very difficult.”