Hackett leads 200 free qualifying, Phelps advances easily

Michael Phelps breezed into the semifinals of the 200 free at swimming's World Championships today, recovering from his preliminary round elimination in the 400 meters a day earlier.

Australian Grant Hackett, who won Sunday's 400 free, was the top qualifier at 1 minute, 47.88 seconds keeping himself on track for a delayed showdown with Phelps, who won his heat and was second fastest at 1:48.53.

Hackett and Phelps were supposed to face off in the 400 free Sunday night, but the 20-year-old American stunningly failed to escape the morning preliminaries.

With Phelps out of the way and Ian Thorpe skipping the championships, Hackett finally won the 400 title that eluded him at the last three world championships, as well as the Athens Olympics.

Each time, Hackett finished second to Thorpe.

If Hackett and Phelps get through the 200 semifinals Monday night, they'll face each other in Tuesday's final.

"I feel better than I did yesterday morning," Phelps said, managing a smile. "I just wanted to come into today and win my heat. That was the big goal."

American Natalie Coughlin, who won five medals in Athens, was top qualifier in the 100 backstroke at 1:01.25, though far off her world record from three years ago. She was followed by Japan's Reiko Nakamura.

"It was exactly what I needed to do," Coughlin said. "I wanted a good swim and good turns. That's all I was focusing on."

Australian world record holder Leisel Jones led qualifying for the 100 breaststroke, posting a time of 1:07.26.

The next two spots went to Jessica Hardy and Tara Kirk of the United States.

"I would have liked to have gone slower than that," Jones said. "A 1:08 would have been good enough."

But she was pushed by Hardy, swimming in the next lane. The 18-year-old American was just behind at 1:07.34.

"The Australians and Americans love racing each other," Jones said, "so it's always good to have an American next to you."

Aaron Peirsol, the American who swept the men's backstroke events in Athens, coasted into the semifinals of the 100 back with the top time, 54.41. Aristeidis Grigoriadis of Greece was second and American Randall Bal third.

Rebecca Cooke of Britain set the pace in preliminaries of the grueling 1,500 free the longest event in the pool. She put up a time of 16:15.69.

Laura Conway was second, and fellow American Kate Ziegler also advanced with the seventh-best effort.

But Laure Manaudou of France didn't qualify for Tuesday's final. After winning the 400 free the previous night, Manaudou finished 12th and missed a spot in the final by almost 10 seconds.

"I am disappointed because I know I can do better," she said. "It didn't feel natural."

There were four finals on today night's schedule, included a much-anticipated duel between Japan's Kosuke Kitajima and American Brendan Hansen in the 100 breaststroke.

Hansen is the world record holder, but Kitajima won the gold medal in Athens. Kitajima put up the fastest time in the prelims, while Hansen set the pace in the semis, AP reports.

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