Ed Moses looked strong at the midway point of his preliminary heat in the 200-meter breaststroke Saturday at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, leading the eight-man field by a healthy margin, turning the fastest split time of any swimmer in five heats.

But over the final 50 meters, Moses, who swam at Virginia and is from Burke, was nearly caught from behind. He touched the wall first, .02 seconds ahead of Gary Marshall. Yet the performance showed just how difficult it will be for Moses -- who won a silver medal in the 100 breaststroke and gold in the medley relay in 2000 at Sydney -- to make the Olympics this time around. He swam in the semifinals Saturday evening; only the top two swimmers in Sunday night's final will make the Olympic team.

"There's pressure, but I've been in this position many a time," Moses said. "It really doesn't have anything to do with anybody. You try to swim the race you've been training for."

Yet Moses, 24, said that has been difficult for him this week. He was a non-factor in the 100 breaststroke on Thursday, finishing sixth, nearly three seconds behind winner Brendan Hansen, who set a world record of 59.3 seconds. During the heats before the final, Moses complained that he might be battling food poisoning. Saturday, he said he was taking medicine because the pool was causing his asthma to act up. He said he is breathing at only 50 or 60 percent of what he should be.

"It's a little painful," he said. "But I'm not going to give up. . . . The [asthma attacks] are few, and this is just a very, very bad time for one like this, just because I wasn't feeling that bad until things started to get heated up."

Hansen, meantime, was strong again Saturday, and looks poised to push for another record in the event. He was fastest in the morning preliminaries by more than two seconds; those semifinals also were Saturday evening.

"I'm on a roll . . .," Hansen said after the morning session. "After the 100, it was kind of hard to stay focused and not get too excited about what had just happened. But [U.S. Coach Eddie Reese, who coached Hansen at the University of Texas] has been really adamant about making sure I warm down, making sure I'm eating right, making sure everything's going well, and I'm refocused."

Moses, meantime, must be concerned only with himself.

"I think he's on fire right now, and swimming really well," Moses said. "I'm not on the team yet, and the only way I can do that is swim my own race."

Feuding Freestylers

In 2000, the U.S. men lost the 400 freestyle relay for the first time since the event was introduced at the Olympics in 1964. The team desperately wants to reclaim the title from powerful Australia, but to do so, they may have to do it with feuding teammates.

Gary Hall Jr. took gold in the 50 freestyle and bronze in the 100 in Sydney, but has trained out of the spotlight coming into this meet.

Meantime, Jason Lezak has developed into the Americans' fastest sprinter.

The two simply don't get along. At spring nationals, Hall accused Lezak of spitting in his lane prior to the 50 freestyle, later writing on his Web site, "I have one bit of advice for Jason: If you're going to spit in my lane, beat me. It looks bad if you don't." Hall finished second, Lezak fifth.

Earlier this week, Hall shrugged off mention of a rivalry with Lezak, but his manager, David Arluck, compared Lezak's tactics with "Spud Webb kicking Michael Jordan in the shins." With the two scheduled to meet in the finals of the 100 freestyle Sunday night -- and the top four finishers making up the 400 relay team for Athens -- Lezak tried to play down the rivalry Saturday, but wasn't very successful.

"Some of the things they say, I don't know whether they're trying to [tick] me off or make me laugh," Lezak said after the morning prelims, in which his time of 48.79 seconds was .41 seconds better than Hall, who was second.

"Actually, it does make me laugh. Like I'm Spud Webb, okay? Last I checked, Spud Webb was never the fastest sprinter in the world, which I was in 2002. Spud Webb wasn't even an all-star, so I don't know what this guy's talking about." . . .

The outgoing and incoming giants of the women's team -- Jenny Thompson and Natalie Coughlin, respectively -- swim the prelims and semifinals of the 100 freestyle Sunday. The top four finishers in Monday's finals will make up the 400 freestyle relay team, an event in which Thompson won gold in 1992, 1996 and 2000. . . .

Sunday is the second of two live NBC broadcasts from the trials. Along with the men's 200 breaststroke and 100 freestyle, viewers will see the women's 200 butterfly final, featuring 2000 gold medalist Misty Hyman, who has worked past shoulder surgery and posted the fastest time in Saturday's prelims.

Two-time Olympic medalist Ed Moses, struggling with asthma, is trying to make his second Olympic team in 200-meter breaststroke at U.S. trials.