Phelps goes on the record with statement of intent

Some of the detail about events here last night, Beijing time, will have been superseded by the time you are reading this article. It is quite possible, in fact, that Michael Phelps will have won his first gold medal of these Games – of a possible eight – in the men's 400 metres individual medley final. That was scheduled to start at 10.03am local time, or 3.03am in Britain.

The 23-year-old American looked in decent nick in winning his heat in an Olympic record of 4min 7.82sec. That put him 1.44sec ahead of the next fastest qualifier, Laszlo Cseh of Hungary, and a whopping 2.51sec faster than his American team-mate and closest rival in various events, Ryan Lochte.

"I'm pretty surprised I broke the Olympic record tonight," said Phelps. "I didn't think that I'd be the first person to do that here; not until the final, anyway."

That it is not possible to be writing about a final after the first day's competition is down to the fascination of the American public with those parts of the Games it expects the USA to dominate. For the first time in history, a major swimming meet has been turned upside down. All the finals here are being held in the mornings, with heats at night. It is a complete reversal of normality, and it is so solely because NBC demanded the change. The broadcaster wants its viewers to watch swimming finals in prime time. Phelps is expected to be in a lot of finals, and winning them.

The necessary changes to preparation, and the mental strangeness of trying to hit a peak just after breakfast, have not gone down well. Several competitors made reference to the problem yesterday.

Lochte was among them. "That was my morning swim," he said, employing the terminology top swimmers use to describe a relatively casual warm-up ahead of an evening's medal races. "That was not my best, but I'm happy with it."€

Falling at the first hurdle in the 400m medley were Britain's Thomas Haffield and Euan Dale, the former bemused after finishing 17th out of 29 swimmers. He arrived here with the fourth fastest time of 2008.

"Everything was going great up until I got in," said the 20-year-old from Neath. "I got in the water and nothing happened. I did the first two strokes and it didn't feel right."

British progress was achieved by the teenager Hannah Miley in the women's 400m medley, when she qualified for this morning's final.

In her heat Miley, who turned 19 on Friday, was second to the American world-record holder, Katie Hoff, and eighth fastest overall. "I knew it would be tough because everyone is swimming PBs [personal bests] just to make it into the final," she said. "But I'm over the moon to have made it."

Chris Cook reached today's 100m breaststroke semi-final, Jemma Lowe reached the 100m butterfly semi-finals and Britain's 4x100m women's freestyle relay team squeezed into their final, also today, in eighth place.

Unfortunately for Britain, Fran Halsall (in the same 100m butterfly heat as Lowe), Keri-Anne Payne (400m medley), Kris Gilchrist (100m breaststroke), and Dean Milwain and David Carry (400m freestyle) were eliminated.