IRVINE, Calif.—Satisfaction remained an elusive concept for Michael Phelps.
This was, after all, a far cry from his most recent experience in the event, a win at the nationals here earlier this month. It was a race he called probably his "worst" 200 fly ever.
On Wednesday, he fretted about getting run down and kept telling himself down the stretch: "Please just get to the wall."
Nick D'Arcy of Australia was second in 1:54.73, and Takeshi Matsuda of Japan took third in 1:54.81.
Still, Phelps was not thrilled and looked to be in a world of hurt.
"It was painful, oh my … I wanted to go 1:53," he said. "There were some things I didn't do well in that race that could have been the difference.
"I think I chopped a couple of walls … small technical things."
Phelps drew a laugh from the crowd when asked how close he was to where he wanted to be. "A long way, a long way," he said.
It certainly won't get easier, not with Ryan Lochte looming in the individual medley races. Their first meeting in the 400 individual medley since the Olympics in 2008 could be on Thursday night.
Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, had spoken earlier in the day about the motivational presence of the newly committed Lochte.
"They've traded places," Bowman said, smiling. "You know how I am. It's very hard for me when I can't follow a plan. With Michael we have a five-minute plan. My other guys, we have a four-year plan."
Lochte has adopted an improved nutrition plan and Bowman once mused how formidable an opponent a fitter Lochte could be down the road. He also said that Phelps' meal plan could be improved, calling it inconsistent.
"You can tell he looks better," Bowman said of Lochte. "He's definitely fitter. And that means you train better. That's something, a good thing for Michael, something he's never done that he can really improve on. We have at least one thing we can really do a lot better."
The medley events will serve as a barometer for Phelps.
"He doesn't really have the sense for what it's like to want to do something and not have it there," Bowman said. "He's never been that far away from the conditioning that he couldn't just step on it and make it happen. I don't know that he's that far away from it now."
Certainly a lot can change in a day in the swimming world, really, even in a few hours.
World-record holder Aaron Peirsol had been on the outside looking in after the morning heats, but got a second chance when Lochte scratched from the 100 backstroke to concentrate on the 200 freestyle, which he won.
Peirsol didn't mess up when he got the lifeline, winning in 53.31 seconds, getting out fast and holding off a determined charge. Junya Koga of Japan was second in 53.63.
"I should start off by thanking Ryan Lochte," Peirsol said. "I owe him ... something after the meet."