Rice wins 400 IM heat in Olympic debut
BEIJING (AP) For a first-time Olympian, Stephanie Rice didn't show much in the way of nerves when she won her heat in the 400-meter individual medley Saturday. Olympic veteran Kirsty Coventry, meanwhile, started too fast in the opening swimming session of the games.
Rice, the Australian who took the world record from Katie Hoff in March before the American snatched it back in June, qualified in a tie for third with Alessia Filippi of Italy, both timing 4:35.11.
"I was very nervous and very excited all at the same time, and it was good just to get rid of all those butterflies," said Rice, who has had an on and off battle with glandular fever over the past two years.
Elizabeth Beisel led the heats in 4:34.55, and her teammate Hoff qualified second in 4:34.63.
Coventry barely made it in seventh position, clocking 4:36.56.
"Not the swim I wanted. But that's OK, you learn and this is still one of my newer events," the Zimbabwean said. "I just took it out a little too fast. Tomorrow I just got to slow it down a bit and swim a better race mentally."
At the 2004 Athens Games, Coventry won gold in the 200 backstroke, silver in the 100 back and bronze in the 200 IM. She'll swim those three events again at these games. But she's starting with her weakest race, and will have to challenge from an outside lane in Sunday's final.
"Lucky for me, I'm experienced in the outside lanes," Coventry said. "Nobody expects too much of you out there, but I'm going to bring some fire from the outside."
Hoff set the world record of 4:31.12 at the U.S. trials, but Rice isn't sure if it will take a new mark to win this race.
"I'm not focusing on that, I'm really focusing more about the process and looking forward to the challenge," said Rice, who has become a regular on the gossip pages Down Under for her relationship with sprinting ace Eamon Sullivan.
Rice and Coventry both wear Speedo's revolutionary LZR Racer swimsuit, which has been used for 47 of the 51 world records set this year. Under a last-minute arrangement with the Italian team, Filippi is using a new suit called Jaked.
But Filippi is still under contract with Arena, and therefore blacked out the Jaked logo on her suit. The new suit was apparently sufficient, since Filippi clocked a career-best time.
In the men's 400 IM, Michael Phelps started his bid for eight gold medals by setting an Olympic record of 4:07.82. Laszlo Cseh of Hungary qualified second in 4:09.26.
The men's race is considered a two-man battle between Phelps and his American teammate Ryan Lochte, who qualified fourth. Cseh is the third-best swimmer ever in the event, having set the European record of 4:07.96 in June.
"It's going to be hard to beat them but I'm in good shape and I'm going to try everything I can," said Cseh, the bronze medalist in Athens four years ago. "I think to win this race you need to go under 4:05."
At the U.S. trials in June, Phelps set the world record of 4:05.25.