IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — Two-time Olympic champion Michael Phelps failed to make the 400-meter individual medley final at the Pan Pacific championships on Thursday.
Phelps had the fourth-fastest time of 4 minutes, 15.38 seconds in the morning preliminaries, but only two swimmers per country are allowed in the evening final.
And he wasn't close to being even the second-fastest American.
World champion Ryan Lochte was quickest in 4:07.77, lowering Phelps' meet record of 4:10.47 set in 2006. His U.S. teammate Tyler Clary was second in 4:09.20, which also was under the meet record. Their times were the two fastest in the world this year.
Phelps set the current world record of 4:03.84 at the Beijing Games, and he's dominated both IM events at the Olympics, worlds and Pan Pacs for years.
Bob Bowman, Phelps' coach, said he would not swim the consolation final.
Phelps hadn't competed in the 400 IM since winning the event in Beijing two years ago, where he earned a record eight gold medals. Back then, he declared he was done with the grueling event featuring all four strokes.
He changed his mind after seeing Clary's second-place time of 4:14.12 at U.S. nationals, where Lochte won the race earlier this month. Phelps and Bowman thought he could at least out-swim Clary at Pan Pacs to possibly earn a berth in the event for next year's worlds.
Clary went considerably faster Thursday.
"I wasn't expecting those guys to come out and fire one off," Phelps said. "I was like, 'Thanks, guys. I'm not going that fast. They're like, 'Oh, right.' They might have thought I was being coy, but I knew I was being dead honest. I knew 4:07 was nowhere near being in the tank."
Phelps took the first extended break of his career after Beijing and has been struggling to get back into racing shape. He's suffered more losses this year than at any time since he became one of his sport's greatest swimmers.
"I knew coming into that race it was going to be a rather painful way to wake me up," he said. "It's a good reminder that I need to be in better shape."
Bowman said Phelps' time was not far off from what he had expected.
"It might encourage him," Bowman said, smiling. "It showed him what he can do. No harm done."
Phelps was noncommittal about whether he would keep the 400 IM in his schedule.
"Who knows?" he said. "It's going to have to be a better judged decision when we get back into serious training."
Two-time Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima of Japan qualified first in the 100 breaststroke.
Kitajima touched in 59.04 seconds, making him the only man under 1 minute in the heats. His time was the world's fastest this year and it bettered the meet record of 59.90 set by American Brendan Hansen in 2006.
Kitajima advanced to the evening final, along with teammate Ryo Tateishi, who was second-fastest in 1:00.09.
Americans Mark Gangloff and Eric Shanteau qualified third and fourth. World record-holder Brenton Rickard of Australia tied for ninth-fastest, but got into the eight-man final after Japan advanced its two swimmers.
American Nathan Adrian and 34-year-old teammate Jason Lezak were the two fastest qualifiers for the men's 100 free. World record-holder Cesar Cielo of Brazil claimed the last spot for the final.
U.S. teammates Dana Vollmer and Natalie Coughlin were the top two qualifiers in the women's 100 free. Aussie Stephanie Rice scratched the event to rest her ailing shoulder.
Rice also dropped out of the 400 IM, in which she owns the world record. That left American teammates Elizabeth Beisel and Caitlin Leverenz as the two fastest qualifiers.
World champion Rebecca Soni of the U.S. led the women's 100 breast qualifying with a meet record of 1:05.89. Leisel Jones of Australia was third-fastest, while four-time Olympian Amanda Beard of the U.S. qualified fifth.
Australia's Sophie Edington led the women's 50 backstroke heats, while American Nick Thoman was fastest in the men's event.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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