Swimming star Michael Phelps opened his quest for Olympic immortality in convincing style on Saturday, posting a Games record in the heats of the men's 400m individual medley.
Phelps, who established the previous record in winning gold in Athens four years ago, clocked 4min 07.82sec, an easy swim for the man who lowered his world record in the event to 4:05.25 at the US trials in June.
"I saw the first few heats go out, and I kind of wanted to be the top seed for tomorrow, that is all I went out to do," Phelps said. "It's going to be a tough race between three or four of us."
Phelps easily won his heat before a near-capacity crowd at Beijing's Water Cube aquatic centre, where the crowd greeted his arrival on deck with enthusiasm but saved their loudest cheers for Chinese competitors.
The 23-year-old American, who is gunning for compatriot Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals at one Games, was never challenged, with Italian Luca Marin second-fastest in his heat in 4:10.22.
Hungarian Laszlo Cseh, who set the European record at a meeting in France in June, was the second-fastest qualifier for tomorrow morning's final, winning his heat in 4:09.26.
Marin was third-fastest overall and American Ryan Lochte, reckoned one of the chief challengers to Phelps in both the 400m and 200m medleys, was fourth-fastest overall, winning his heat in 4:10.