LONDON (Reuters) - After getting the presidential seal of approval from Barack Obama, Michael Phelps was back in the Olympic pool on Wednesday morning, looking to add to his record medal tally.
Phelps won an unprecedented 19th Olympic medal on Tuesday when he anchored the United States 4x200 meters freestyle relay team to gold, and woke the next day to find a message from the White House.
“Congrats to Michael Phelps for breaking the all-time Olympic medal record. You’ve made your country proud. - bo,” the president personally tweeted.
For Phelps, the magnitude of his achievement was temporarily forgotten as he immediately got back to work, safely qualifying for the semi-finals of the men’s 200 individual medley.
He won the multi-discipline event at Athens in 2004 and Beijing four years later but faces a tough job to become the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three Olympics.
With everything to lose and little to gain in the heats, he swam conservatively to finish second in his heat and fourth overall despite feeling fatigued.
“Didn’t really get much sleep last night, didn’t warm down at all, so this morning didn’t feel too comfortable,” he said.
His biggest rival for the event is his team mate Ryan Lochte, the world champion and world record holder.
The pair joined forces in the relay the previous night and are close friends outside the pool but fierce rivals in it.
Lochte won his heat and was second fastest overall behind Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh but was conserving his energy for one of the most brutal challenges in Olympic swimming.
Not only does he faces the daunting prospect of tackling Phelps in the medley, Lochte is also defending his 200 backstroke title in the same sessions.
He qualified second fastest overall behind his American team mate Tyler Clary in the backstroke, less than 40 minutes before diving in for the medley preliminaries.
“This morning’s races were easy. All I had to do was get a lane for tonight and that’s what I did,” Lochte said.
Colorado teenager Missy Franklin also woke up to see a tweet from a new admirer, Canadian pop star Justin Bieber, before tackling the women’s 100 freestyle heats.
“I could not believe it when I saw,” she told reporters after qualifying 10th. “I was running around like a chicken with the head cut off, I was so excited.”
China’s Tang Yi swam a personal best time of 53.28 seconds to finish first overall in the 100 freestyle, the classic sprint race to decide the fastest woman in water.
Australia’s Melanie Schlanger, who won a relay gold medal on Saturday, was second just ahead of Denmark’s Jeanette Ottesen Gray and Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus, who dead-heated in last year’s world championships final while Germany’s Olympic champion Britta Steffen scraped in as the 14th qualifier.
Rebecca Soni made the perfect start to the defense of her 200 breaststroke title when she stopped the clock almost a second and a half clear of her nearest competitor while Australia set the pace, just ahead of the U.S., in the women’s 4x200 freestyle relay, which will be decided in Wednesday’s evening finals session.
Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Greg Stutchbury