* Soni, Lochte ease into semi-finals
* Steffen struggles, but sneaks into 100 freestyle semis (recasts, adds details, quotes)
By Greg Stutchbury
SHANGHAI, July 28 (Reuters) - Olympic champion Rebecca Soni charged into the semi-finals of the 200 metres breastroke with a blistering qualifying time at the world swimming championships in Shanghai on Thursday.
Soni, who won the 100 breaststroke title on Tuesday, clocked two minutes 23.30 seconds, more than two and a half seconds faster than second-placed Rikke Pederson of Denmark.
“I tried to be smooth and relax and not to worry about it,” Soni told reporters. “I am very happy with the time.”
Annamay Pierse of Canada qualified seventh fastest in 2:27.14, well outside her world record of 2:20.12.
Soni’s fellow Olympic champion Ryan Lochte eased into the men’s 200 backstroke semi-finals after a comfortable swim in the qualifying heats.
Lochte, who will swim for a place in the final later on Thursday as well as try to defend his world 200 individual medley title against compatriot Michael Phelps, clocked one minute 57.34 seconds to qualify fourth fastest.
His American team mate Scott Clary posted the fastest time, while Japan’s Ryosuke Irie, who finished second behind the now retired Aaron Peirsol at the last world championhsips in Rome, was sixth fastest.
“It’s gonna take a great time (to beat Irie),” Lochte said.
”He is a great competitor, a great racer. You have to play everything together.
“You have to pretty much swim a perfect race. I will try not to use my legs for the first 100 and save it for the last.”
While Lochte cruised on Thursday, Germany’s Olympic and world champion Britta Steffen almost failed to qualify for the semi-finals of the women’s 100 freestyle.
The 27-year-old Steffen, who is also the world record holder, clocked 54.86 seconds to sneak into the semi-finals with the 16th and last qualifying place.
The United States qualified fastest for the women’s 4x200 freestyle final later on Thursday with a time of 7:50.46, while Lithuania’s Giedrius Titenis was fastest qualifer in the men’s 200 breaststroke.
(Additional reporting by Soo Ai Peng; Editing by Ian Ransom; To comment on this story email email@example.com)
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