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Phelps second best

American superstar Michael Phelps finished second Friday in his first race since capturing eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, a 200-metre freestyle heat at the Charlotte UltraSwim in North Carolina.

Phelps, 23, who set the world 200 free record of 1min 42.96sec last year at Beijing, swam his 200 free morning preliminary heat in 1:50.46, trailing winner Darvis Tarwater by 0.35 of a second.

Phelps was the third-fastest qualifier among eight swimmers to reach Friday night’s event final, also trailing Peter Vanderkaay’s 1:50.26 effort to win the heat just before Phelps ended the longest competitive layoff of his career.

Making his first strokes toward the 2012 London Olympics, Phelps plans to swim later on Friday in the 100 butterfly, then Saturday in the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke and Sunday in the 100 freestyle.

The meet is Phelps’s first checkpoint in a training regimen on the way to the world championships in Rome in July.

Phelps won Beijing Olympic gold in the 100 and 200 butterfly, the 200 and 400 individual medley, the 200 freestyle and three relays but has shifted gears and goals for his next few years of training ahead of the London Olympics.

Phelps will work upon his sprint speed with goals of becoming the fastest man in the water, including a flatter stroke for the 50 and 100 freestyles that will be unveiled in competition for the first time this weekend.

This was the first meeting for Phelps following a three-month USA Swimming ban for being photographed holding a bong, a pipe commonly used to smoke marijuana.

The picture was published in a British newspaper in February and he admits the frenzy has caused him to be more guarded and wary of people.