Michael Phelps of the United States looks on after he competed in heat four of the Men's 400m Individual Medley on Day One of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on July 28, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
LONDON - Michael Phelps will get his showdown with Ryan Lochte, but barely.
Phelps on Saturday morning qualified for the eighth and final spot in Saturday night's final of the 400 individual medley. That puts him in an outside lane.
"A final spot is a final spot," Phelps said. "The only thing that matters is getting a spot in. You can't win a gold medal from the morning."
No, but you can lose one if you don't qualify, and Phelps very nearly didn't. He won his heat in 4 minutes, 13.33 seconds, barely beating Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, who finished in 4:13.40. Cseh will miss the final after winning silver in 2008 and bronze in 2004.
Lochte qualified in third place overall.
"My first race is always the worst one," Lochte said. "I'm glad I got the cobwebs out."
And what of his rival and village suitemate qualifying last?
"You can't count him out," Lochte said. "Even though he just squeaked in eighth, he's a racer. We're going to do everything we can to go 1-2 tonight."
Count Japan's Kosuke Hagino in. He finished first overall in 4:10.01, a national record. The hotly anticipated Splash of the Titans between Phelps and Lochte could end up as Hagino's party, which would make him the first Japanese swimmer to win the Olympic 400 IM.
Lochte (4:12.35) came second in his heat behind South Africa's Chad le Clos, who qualified second in 4:12.24.
Phelps hopes to be the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three consecutive Olympics. Lochte, who won bronze in the 400 IM in 2008, beat Phelps in the event at the Olympic trials and won the world championship in the medley distance in 2009 and 2011.
Saturday night's other qualifiers are Thiago Pereira of Brazil, Thomas Fraser-Holmes of Australia, Luca Marin of Italy and Yuya Horihata of Japan. None was expected to be ranked above the two-time defending Olympic champ.
"I didn't expect those guys to go that fast in the heats," Phelps said.
Lochte cautioned reporters to remember one thing: Phelps is a racer. He said he hoped they'd finish 1-2 Saturday night. Lochte wants dearly to be No. 1.