OMAHA, Neb. -- Before his second race of the day, the 100-meter backstroke, Michael Phelps got succinct advice from his coach: Be first.
"I said, 'OK,' " recalled Phelps, who went out and did just that yesterday in the preliminary heat, cruising through the first 50 meters before putting it into overdrive to go from fourth to first.
Last night in the finals, he led from start to finish to post a time of 53.42 seconds, eighth fastest of all time and second fastest this year.
At the Mutual of Omaha Swimvitational this weekend, a tuneup for the Olympic trials in the same pool in three weeks, Phelps has excelled mostly by saving his best for last.
"I've been finishing a lot better here than in the past, so hopefully it means something good is going to happen in the next three weeks," Phelps said.
As he did in the backstroke final, Phelps showed in the 200-meter freestyle preliminary that he can win a race by staying ahead of the pack, posting a time of 1 minute, 46.50 seconds, two seconds faster than Club Wolverine teammate Peter Vanderkaay.
Phelps ditched the final in order to concentrate on the 100-meter backstroke.
Phelps, who earned $20,000 for winning the eight-stop Toyota Grand Prix series, pronounced himself "pretty satisfied" with the meet.
In the 200-meter freestyle final, Dan Madwed of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club overcame a slow start to set a personal best of 1:48.84, good for a silver medal behind Vanderkaay.
"On the second-to-last lap, I was thinking, 'I'm catching up, I'm doing good here,'" Madwed said. "From then on, you just keep going and push harder and harder."
Towson's Katie Hoff continued her methodical dress rehearsal for the Olympic trials one day after her U.S. mark in the 200-meter individual medley fell to five-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin, swimming half the country away.
Hoff's response yesterday after letting it sink in overnight?
A tiny shrug, a small smile and an invitation.
"She really ought to swim it at trials," said Hoff, who still holds the U.S. records in the 200- and 400-meter freestyle and the 400-meter IM.
Then, Hoff went out and swam 1:02.17 in the 100-meter backstroke preliminary, a personal best. In the finals of an event she will not swim at trials, Hoff finished with the bronze medal (1:01.86) behind winner Margaret Hoelzer (1:00.38).
In the 100-meter breaststroke - another non-trials event - Hoff had a time of 1:11.30 for 10th place.
"Coming in here, we just wanted to get used to the pool ... and get some confidence with some best times," Hoff said.
Yetter, who also is Hoff's coach, dismissed a suggestion that Coughlin's accomplishment might alter his swimmer's preparations before trials. Hoff is the only woman with qualifying times in all 13 events and expects to swim the 200-meter and 400-meter IM and all the freestyle events with the exception of the 50-meter race.
"We had no discussion, and I'm not sure it's motivational other than she wants to go fast," Yetter said.