SHANGHAI — US swimming star Michael Phelps kept his world championships on track Monday as he fought back in a "deadly field" to reach the final of the 200m freestyle.
It has been a slow start for the 14-time Olympic champion, part of the US team that crashed to defeat at the hands of Australia in the men's 4x100m freestyle relay on the opening night of pool action.
And Phelps, swimming next to team-mate and rival Ryan Lochte in the 200m freestyle semi-finals, looked in danger of missing out on the final as he battled a powerful field also including defending champion Paul Biedermann.
But Phelps found an extra gear in the last 50 metres to qualify fifth fastest for Tuesday's final in a time of 1min 46.91sec, 1.29 seconds behind Yannick Agnel of France, who swam in the other semi-final.
"It's a deadly field. You know it's going to be down to the last 50. I think whoever gets their feet over first in that 150 (turn) is going to have that shot," Phelps said.
"There are some guys who out front have speed and some guys who close really well," said the 26-year-old.
The American, who won eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said his only aim had been to reach the eight-man decider. Phelps could still claim up to six gold medals in Shanghai.
"I just wanted to try to get in. I don't really care where I am in the pool as long as I have a lane. That's all I need," he said.
"I have my strategy on what I want to do tomorrow. Bob (Phelps's coach) and I talked about it. I tried to conserve as much as I could. I wanted to see if I could step on it a little bit and then back off at the end.
"You can probably guarantee it's going to be a tight field."
On Sunday, the much-vaunted US 4x100m relay team slipped to their first defeat in a world championships or Olympic Games since the 2004 Athens Olympics, finishing third behind Australia.
Australia's James Magnussen had the better of Phelps in the first leg and they kept their grip and did not let the Americans back in the race.
Phelps is into the final year of his stellar career with everything now geared towards his swansong at next year's London Games, which will be his fourth and last Olympics.
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