Michael Phelps cruised to an 8.68-second victory in the 400-yard individual medley at the Southern California Grand Prix meet last night, flirting with his American record before falling off the pace.

Amanda Beard, seeking to make her fourth Olympic team at 26, finished third in the 200 breaststroke. It was Beard's first meet since November, when she swam a smaller competition in Seattle.

Phelps, of Rodgers Forge, touched first in 3 minutes, 38.28 seconds - 2.02 seconds off his American mark set in 2006.

"It was all right," he said. "I would've liked to have gone a little faster."

The six-time Olympic gold medalist had an impediment, though. His goggles filled with water after he dived in. "I was struggling to see the walls. You have to deal with trying things that come your way," he said.

Phelps' second-fastest time ever put him well ahead of Tamas Kerekjarto of Hungary, who trains at Southern California and finished in 3:46.96.

It was Phelps' third win of the four-day meet, to go with victories in the 100 and 500 freestyles Saturday night. He won the 100 in 41.93 seconds and the 500 in 4:10.43. He scratched the 50 free final after swimming morning prelims to focus on the distance race.

Beard lost the 200 breaststroke to 25-year-old Olympian Tara Kirk, who won in 2:07.94, well off her American record. Caitlin Leverenz, a 16-year-old from Tucson, Ariz., was second in 2:08.59. Beard finished in 2:10.76.

"I try to keep quiet about the younger kids because I was 14 once, but I definitely feel older. I look over, and the 16-year-olds are going, 'Woo!' I got a ways to go," Beard said. "Thank goodness, I'm injury-free. I'm tired after tonight. I have to go home and eat a lot of carbs and get 12 hours' sleep."