BEIJING, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Michael Phelps, the first of his eight targeted gold medals secured, will face a lively French challenge when he chases the second on Monday.
Phelps, who retained his 400 metres individual medley crown in world record time on Sunday, looks for his second gold in the 4x100 freestyle relay in which the second-string U.S. quartet broke the world record without him.
But France, who rested 100 freestyle world record holder Alain Bernard, swam just 0.13 seconds outside the new 3:12.23 standard in the second heat and will want to make good Bernard’s boast to smash the Americans.
The Americans, however, will likely bring in their quickest trio -- Garrett Weber-Gale, Jason Lezak and Phelps, who were all rested from the heats -- alongside Cullen Jones and will be confident they can beat anyone.
Before the relay heats, Phelps negotiated his way economically into Monday’s 200 freestyle semi-finals with the fourth-fastest overall time of 1:46.48, nearly three seconds outside his world record.
“Tonight was a race to get in to tomorrow, that’s all, I tried to conserve everything, bank as much rest, recover and get out of here so I don’t get too run down,” said Phelps.
“This morning was pretty emotional.”
Italy’s Federica Pellegrini looks ready to put her own 400 freestyle world record to the sword in Monday’s final, having flown through the first half of her heat way inside the pace.
She eased off to 4:02.19, pursued by in-form Briton Rebecca Adlington who was just 0.05 seconds adrift, with both less than a second outside the 4:01.53 world mark.
“I tried to go out strong for the first part of the race. It was a good time, even though I slowed up down the last 50,” Pellegrini said.
Athens champion Laure Manaudou of France claimed the eighth and last spot in the final, one place ahead of 2004 silver medallist Otylia Jedrzejczak of Poland.
A world record is also in prospect in the women’s 100 metres backstroke after Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry, silver medallist in Sunday’s 400 individual medley, swam just 0.03 seconds outside the 58.97 mark of American Natalie Coughlin.
European champion Alexander Dale Oen has a great chance of becoming Norway’s first Olympic swimming champion after upstaging favourites Kosuke Kitajima of Japan and Brendan Hansen of the U.S. in the early skirmishes of the men’s 100 breaststroke.
Dale Oen, who led heat qualifiers on Saturday in an Olympic record 59.41, hit the wall in Sunday’s semi-finals in 59.16, just 0.03 seconds outside the record of world champion Hansen.
“Kitajima and Hansen will definitely come out strong in the final. I have all respect for my competitors and I know they’ll push me all the way,” Dale Oen said.
Kitajima, double Olympic champion in 2004, won his semi-final in the second-fastest overall time of 59.55.
Australian world champion Libby Trickett goes into the women’s 100 butterfly final, bolstered by the fastest semi-final time of 57.05, 0.03 seconds ahead of American Christine Magnuson.
(Additional reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)