Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps were the two fastest swimmers in the rainy 100m butterfly prelims at the Pan Pacific Championships, setting up a potential showdown Saturday.
Lochte won his heat in 51.55 seconds in Gold Coast, Australia. Phelps prevailed in a later heat in 51.57.
“It’s crazy with like the sideways rain,” Phelps, shivering and his neck wrapped in a towel, told reporters in Gold Coast. “It’s a little chilly out there, but we’re all under the same conditions.”
Phelps, the three-time reigning Olympic 100m fly champion, owns the fastest 100m fly time in the world this year of 51.17 seconds. Phelps swam that time in the prelims of the U.S. Championships two weeks ago, but he was out-touched by .01 in the final by Tom Shields.
Shields won his 100m fly heat at Pan Pacs in 52.00, failing to qualify for the top final because only two swimmers per nation can advance.
Phelps finished fourth in the 100m freestyle earlier in the meet. He and Lochte helped the U.S. to gold in the 4x200m free relay.
NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have Pan Pacs coverage Saturday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. ET and Sunday from 1-2:30.
Pan Pacs are not only the biggest meet for U.S. and Australian swimmers this year, but times from Pan Pacs and the U.S. Championships will also determine the U.S. team for the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia.
In other events, Katie Ledecky set the pace in the 400m free heats in 4:03.09, a Pan Pacs record. Ledecky already owns gold medals from the 200m free, 800m free and 4x200m free relay this week.
Missy Franklin qualified second into the final of the 200m backstroke, an event in which she holds the world record. Australian Belinda Hocking was .01 faster than her in the prelims.
Franklin is swimming through back problems after first suffering spasms Tuesday.
“It’s kind of at the point where it’s not going to get too much better when I’m racing three times a day,” Franklin told reporters in Gold Coast. “But we’ve got it under control. I’m convincing myself it’s great.”
Beijing Olympic champion Park Tae-hwan of South Korea led the men’s 400m free qualifiers, followed by American Connor Jaeger, the World bronze medalist.
Australian Olympic bronze medalist Alicia Coutts was the top qualifier into the women’s 100m butterfly finals. Americans Claire Donahue and Kendyl Stewart also made the top final.
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