IRVINE, Calif. -- If you're a superstar American swimmer, the last name you want to see swimming against you in a qualifying heat right now has to be 21-year-old speedster Tyler Clary.
For the second straight morning, Clary's performance kept a world-record holder from qualifying for the night's "A" final. On Thursday, it was Michael Phelps in the 400 individual medley. On Friday, it was backstroke specialist Aaron Peirsol in the 200 back.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty ImagesRyan Lochte, left, and Tyler Clary again pushed each other in Friday's 200 back prelims.
"Michael and Aaron -- pretty cool, right?" Clary said after Peirsol posted a 1:56.22 in the final heat Thursday morning, placing him two-thirds of a second behind Clary. Ryan Lochte won the heat at 1:55.26.
On Thursday, Clary nervously watched Phelps on a monitor in the media interview area. Friday, he plopped into an official's chair on the deck of the main pool and watched Peirsol's performance in person.
"It's absolutely nerve-racking," Clary said. "It's not like it gets easier the next day. You just sit there and watch. And with the kind of competition we have, it doesn't matter what kind of time you put up. There's always that possibility that someone is going to post something faster."
Clary was again boosted by swimming next to Lochte in his heat, the two Americans pushing one another from beginning to end. An exasperated Lochte joked afterward that he "hates" swimming next to Clary in preliminaries. But both swimmers know having the competition within eye sight is a good thing.
"We bring out the best in each other," Clary said. "He jokes that he hates it, but we always push each other. It's a good thing. Yesterday and today, it worked to get us both in the final."
Peirsol, meanwhile, the Pan Pac and world-record holder in the event, won his heat but still found himself in the "B" final. A top-two time overall will still qualify Peirsol for next year's world championships.
"It is what it is," he said after the heat. "I get another swim tonight. The swim I get does count. I'll go as fast as I can."
As he walked past Clary in the media interview area, Peirsol tapped the newcomer on the back and said simply, "Nice job." On Wednesday night, an exhausted Lochte gave Peirsol his spot in the "A" final of the 100 back, an event Peirsol went on to win. That was not going to happen Friday.
"Tyler should swim," Peirsol said. "He earned it."