COLUMBIA, Mo. — COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Michael Phelps readily concedes that he's not much of a morning person.
But guess what? In his opinion, all the discussion over the decision to move the Olympic swimming finals to the morning - which was made so they could be shown live on television back in the United States - is irrelevant. It's overblown. It's pointless.
"I think it's stupid that people were complaining about it," said Phelps, whose quest to win eight gold medals in Beijing is the reason NBC lobbied the International Olympic Committee for the change. "Everyone is in the same boat. I've said it before and I'll say it again: If you can't get up at the Olympic Games and swim fast, don't go."
There will, however, be some minor adjustments for all the Olympic swimmers, including Phelps. Elite athletes are creatures of habit.
Today's morning finals at the Missouri Grand Prix will provide the first glimpse this year at how easy - or difficult - it will be for American swimmers to roll out of bed at 6 a.m. and swim their best immediately. And though it was a controversial topic in the swimming world when the changes were announced, it doesn't appear to be causing much angst lately.
"I think it's much ado about nothing," said Natalie Coughlin, who won two gold medals, two silvers and a bronze at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. "Swimming is swimming. It's really not as big of a deal as people are making it. Whether it's morning or night, you're going to have to swim hard. If you're going to blame a slow swim on a time of day, you probably weren't going to do that well anyway."
Today's finals, which will begin around 10 a.m. EST, might produce some early-morning excitement. Last night, Phelps swam what he called his "fastest preliminary time ever" in the 200-meter butterfly, clocking in at 1 minute, 55.26 seconds.
"I felt pretty good in the last 50 meters," said Phelps, from Rodgers Forge. "I was just trying to get in a rhythm. I haven't done much butterfly training, so I wanted to get a good last 50 meters in."
Is it possible Missouri might have Phelps duplicate his performance from a year ago, when he surprised everyone by breaking his world record?
"If I can swim faster than I did last year, you'll see a smile on my face," Phelps said.
Katie Hoff of Towson might also make some noise today, and in an event that hasn't traditionally been one of her strongest. Her time in 400 freestyle yesterday was just a second off the American record (4:03.85) held by Janet Evans. It's looking more and more as if she could be a serious contender for a medal in that event in Beijing. She finished a surprising fourth in the 400 meters at the FINA World Championships in Australia last year.
Coughlin also swam well in the 100 freestyle (54.47), finishing just ahead of Hoff (54.60). Dan Madwed of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club looked good in the 200-meter butterfly, finishing third behind Phelps and David Tarwater with a time of 1:58.35.
Felicia Lee, 15, also of the NBAC, swam the third-fastest time in the 200-meter butterfly (2:11.11), finishing just behind veterans Mary Descenza and Kim Vandenberg.