By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2010; 12:05 AM
IRVINE, CALIF. - Michael Phelps watched U.S. teammates Ryan Lochte and Tyler Clary put up sizzling times in a preliminary heat of the 400-meter individual medley Thursday morning at the Pan Pacific Championships. For Phelps, there was no doubt. He knew he had no shot of advancing to the night's final.
"As I was walking out [of the pool], Michael was joking around," Clary said. "He said, 'Have fun tonight; I'm not going any faster.' "
Said Phelps: "They could have thought I was trying to be coy, but I was being dead honest."
He was dead right.
Phelps finished more than six seconds behind both. In Heat 1, Lochte clocked 4 minutes 8.77 seconds and Clary, 4:09.20. Phelps won Heat 3 in 4:15.38.
"I knew 4:07 was nowhere near being in the tank," he said. "So, it's finished."
Indeed, Phelps's attempt to return to one of his signature events on the fly failed. He hadn't swum this event since the 2008 Olympics, when he set the world record of 4:03.84. Though his time on Thursday was fourth-best in the preliminary round, Phelps had to beat Clary because only two athletes from each nation can compete in the eight-swimmer finals.
Lochte, who swam under world-record pace for the first 150, crushed the field in the final, finishing in 4:07.59 to earn his second gold medal of the meet. Clary claimed second in 4:09.55.
"I just went out fast and tried to hold on for dear life," Lochte said. "I'm just going out there and having fun and racing, and whatever the outcome is, I'll take it."
Phelps's attempt to return to the 400 medley here was significant because this event serves as the qualifying meet for next year's world championships. If he hoped to make a return to the 400 medley next summer, he had to outperform his U.S. teammates here.
"I probably shouldn't have done it," Phelps said. "Oh my God. That was painful."
Phelps came back Thursday night to lead the U.S. team to victory in the 4x200 relay, putting up a leadoff leg of 1:45.62 -- which would have given him the silver medal behind Lochte in Wednesday's 200 free final. Phelps, Peter Vanderkaay, Ricky Berens and Lochte touched the wall in 7:03.84, obliterating the field. Lochte's anchor leg of 1:45.27 was the night's second-fastest despite his 400 medley race earlier.
"I told them before the race to give me the biggest lead possible because I'm going to need it," Lochte said.
Towson's Katie Hoff swam third for the women's 4x200 relay team that won gold in 7:51.21, topping Australia (7:52.64) and Canada (7:54.32). Hoff swam her leg in 1:58.70, slowest among the U.S. women but good enough to keep things close for Allison Schmitt, who came home in 1:56.57, the fastest leg of the night. Dana Vollmer led off, followed by Morgan Scroggy.Soni nearly breaks record
American Rebecca Soni came startlingly close to breaking the world record in the women's 100 breaststroke final, touching the wall first in 1:04.93 - just 0.48 of a second off Jessica Hardy's 2009 supersuit-aided mark. Soni has arguably been the U.S. swimmer least affected by the ban on long, non-textile suits this year, but even she was surprised to see her winning time.
"I was very happy with that," Soni said. "We're all chasing those records now.."Two medals for Coughlin
Natalie Coughlin earned her second medal in her second event by winning the 100 freestyle a day after claiming a bronze in the 100 backstroke. Coughlin, who took 18 months off to participate in "Dancing With The Stars" and explore other interests, has returned to nearly top form far faster than she expected.
Coughlin touched the wall in 53.67, topping Australian Emily Seebohm and Dana Vollmer, who tied in 53.96. . . . American Elizabeth Beisel topped the field in the women's 400 individual medley, winning in 4:34.69.