IRVINE, United States - Olympic great Michael Phelps suffered the first significant setback of his return to competition with a seventh-placed finish in the 100m freestyle at the US Swimming Championships on Wednesday.
In a finals field loaded with Olympic medalists, the 18-time Games champion Phelps was nowhere, hitting the halfway wall in eighth and gaining little ground coming home in a race won by reigning 100m free Olympic champion Nathan Adrian.
Phelps ended a near two-year retirement in April, and the US championships are just his fourth meet since then and his first chance to qualify to represent the United States at an international meet - the Pan Pacific Championships August 21-25 in Gold Coast, Australia.
Adrian won in 48.31sec - well off his best this year of 48.08.
Ryan Lochte, whose own collection of 11 Olympic medals includes five golds, stormed to second from lane eight in 48.96.
Jimmy Feigen was third in 48.98 and Conor Dwyer was fourth in 49.06. Phelps clocked 49.17.
"I'm pretty sure he just straight up missed the wall," Adrian said of Phelps, whose epic Olympic campaigns never included the individual 100m free but who has been a key part of American 4x100m free relay teams.
The top four earned berths for the Pan Pacific Championships and results from these championships and the PanPacs will determine the US team for the 2015 World Championships in Russia.