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Phelps makes return to international competition at Pan Pacs

AP

It was raining, and it was pouring for Michael Phelps’ return to international competition. It was anything but boring.

The 18-time Olympic gold medalist advanced to the 100-meter freestyle final at the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships on Friday, with his time of 48.45 seconds ranking him third overall in the preliminaries and second quickest among the 12 Americans. His U.S. teammate Nathan Adrian set a meet record 48.05 to lead qualifying, edging Australia’s two-time world champion James Magnussen in the same heat — the pair finished first and second at the London Olympics.

For Phelps, it was a step toward the 2015 world championships only four months back into competitive swimming after a short-lived retirement following the 2012 Olympics.

“I’m excited to get today out of the way and now time to move forward and hopefully have some fast swims throughout the meet,” the 29-year-old Phelps said.

The competition, featuring swimmers mainly from Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States, is being held in an outdoor pool at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre. It was cold, wet and windy on the opening day, and cool with raining again on Friday morning.

Phelps qualified for the Pan Pacs by placing second in the 100 butterfly and the 200 medley at the U.S. nationals earlier this month, when he placed seventh in the 100 free. He was angry with himself for not hitting the wall in that race, a rookie error.

“Today, my stroke felt easier . . . I guess that’s a good thing,” he said. “The first 50 felt really good. I knew I had to win that heat if I wanted a chance to swim in that final heat tonight, so being able to get past Anthony (Ervin) and Jimmy (Feigen) coming off the wall was good. And I actually hit the turn, so that’s a good thing.”

With combined results from nationals and Pan Pacs determining places on the U.S. team for next year’s worlds, Phelps knew he had to get straight down to business. He beat Ervin and Feigen in his preliminary, and Ryan Lochte couldn’t overhaul him in the following heat.

Phelps took a breather during post-race interviews to check the times from the following heat on a nearby TV, saying “What are they, 48.4?” Clearly, he doesn’t leave competition in the pool.

And that’s why Adrian went out hard in the first lap, ensuring he reached the final from a deep field.

“You just couldn’t risk anything,” he said.

Japanese pair Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto led qualifiers in the 400 medley, with Americans Chase Kalisz and Tyler Clary ranked third and fourth. Elizabeth Beisel of the United States was quickest in the women’s 400 medley.

Japan’s Kanako Watanabe was the fastest qualifier in the women’s 100 breaststroke in 1 minute, 5.88 seconds, narrowly quicker than Americans Jessica Hardy and Larson Breeja. In the men’s race, U.S. swimmer Kevin Cordes swam 59.70 in the preliminaries to lead Felipe Silva of Brazil, Yasuhiro Koseki of Japan and Glenn Snyders of New Zealand into the final.