LONDON (Reuters) - Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte both safely qualified for the final of the men's 200 meters individual medley at the London Olympics on Wednesday.
The two Americans set up one last tantalizing clash before Phelps retires after the Games when they navigated their way through the semi-finals and into Thursday's medal race.
Phelps, who won the 200 medley at Athens in 2004 and Beijing four years later, is bidding to become the first man to win the same individual event at three Olympics.
He beat Lochte at the U.S. trials but finished second behind him in the semi-finals and third overall in a time of one minute, 57.11 although both men will go much faster in the final.
"We love racing against each other," Phelps said.
"Neither one of us likes to lose. I like to say we bring out the best in one another."
Lochte was fastest overall in 1:56.13 despite conserving his energy because he swam the 200 backstroke semi-finals just before the medley.
The second fastest overall time was set by Laszlo Cseh of Hungary, who left nothing to chance after missing out on a place on the final for the 400 medley.
"I have a good chance of winning a medal, but there are two good Americans in there," Cseh said.
South Africa's Chad le Clos dead-heated with Britain's James Goddard for seventh. Le Clos upset Phelps in the 200 butterfly final on Tuesday and was so shocked by his victory that he slept with his gold medal.
"I really didn't think I was gonna make it," he said. "Obviously I'll fight to get that medal, but it will be difficult, a lot more difficult than last night."
Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Greg Stutchbury