Michael Phelps still pressing for his A game

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Michael Phelps (bottom) and Ryan Lochte approach the finish in Friday's 100-meter butterfly qualifying at the U.S. Championships.

Michael Phelps (bottom) and Ryan Lochte approach the finish in Friday's 100-meter butterfly qualifying at the U.S. Championships. (Harry How / Getty Images / August 8, 2014)

IRVINE, Calif. — Even after Michael Phelps swam this season's world-leading time in the Friday morning heats of the 100-meter butterfly at the U.S. championships, his coach still was concerned about Phelps' ability to swim two strong races in a day.

After all, in the 100 free, where he qualified third for the final, Phelps botched the turn so badly he was like a boat without a motor on the second lap and finished seventh.

"I don't take anything for granted," coach Bob Bowman said. "Any slip-ups, and you're going to be in trouble because the margin is so small."

Phelps struggled with his stroke at the finish in Friday night's butterfly final and wound up second to Tom Shields by one-hundredth of a second with a time, 51.30, considerably slower than the 51.17 he clocked in the morning. For Shields, who won the 200 butterfly Wednesday, the winning time of 51.29 was well below his previous personal best.

"Michael still has the fastest time in the world, and I'm fully aware of that," Shields said.

With the top-two finish, Phelps also has a place on the U.S. team for the Pan Pacific Championships Aug. 21-24 in Australia.

"Things like this motivate me more than anything else," Phelps said. "I can't stand to lose, if it's by a hundredth or five seconds. This will be something that sticks with me over the next year, leading up to hopefully the world championships."

There was an extra imperative for Phelps to get the Pan Pac spot in the butterfly, his best event since coming back to the sport after 20 months out of competition. His chances in Saturday's 100 backstroke and Sunday's 200 individual medley do not seem as good.

"This has been my kind of event, the event I love swimming the most," Phelps said.

He has won gold medals in the 100 fly at three straight Olympics and his last three World Championships.

Phelps, seventh at 50 meters in the final, rallied as expected but had a poor finish.

"Instead of taking another stroke, he glided in and armed it (did not kick) all the way down," Bowman said.

And why did that happen?

"Pressure, right?" Bowman said.

Phelps admitted he felt out of sorts before the start, partly from not having been at a meet of this level since the 2012 Olympics and partly from knowing he was undertrained in comparison to the past. Then he lost all his momentum coming to the finish.

"To be honest, that's just where I am," Phelps said. "I need more training, I need more endurance, I need to feel more comfort with my stroke. I understand that, and I am happy to be able to secure a spot on the Pan Pac team."

As impressive as Phelps' performance was in the butterfly qualifying, neither he nor Bowman felt it showed his having regained command of the event from swimmers who prospered in Phelps' absence.

"I have to prove some things in that event first," Phelps said after the heats.

In other Friday action, Becca Mann of Homer Glen finished fourth in the 400 IM; Olivia Smoliga of Glenview third in the 50-meter backstroke; Kevin Cordes of Naperville second in the 50 breaststroke; and Matt Grevers of Lake Forest fourth in the 50 backstroke.

phersh@tribune.com

Twitter @olyphil

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