LONDON - Michael Phelps will get his showdown with Ryan Lochte, but barely.
Phelps qualified for the eighth and final spot in tonight's final of the 400 individual medley Saturday morning. That will put him in an outside lane tonight.
"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 it if you don't qualify, and Phelps very nearly didn't. He won his heat in 4:13.33, 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.
"It didn't feel so good," Lochte said. "But that was my first race and my first race never goes that well. I'm glad I got that out of the way."
And what of his rival and village suitemate qualifying last?
"It's hard," Lochte said. "It's a tough field. But he's in. You can't count him out."
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 (4:12.39) came second in his heat behind South Africa's Chad le Clos, who qualified second in 4:12.35.
Phelps hopes to be the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three consecutive Olympics. Lochte, who won bronze in 2008, beat Phelps in the 400 IM at the Olympic trials and won the world championship in the medley distance in 2009 and 2011.
Tonight's other qualifiers are Thiago Pereira of Brazil, Thomas Fraser-Holmes of Australia, Luca Marin of Italy and Yuya Horihata of Japan. None of those are names that were expected to be ranked above the two-time defending Olympic champ.
But Lochte cautioned reporters to remember one thing: Phelps is a racer. He said he hoped they'd go one-two tonight. Lochte wants dearly to be the one.