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Pan Pacific Championships men’s events preview

Aug 20, 2014, 8:04 AM EDT

Nathan Adrian, James Magnussen Getty Images

The U.S. swimming headlines have largely focused on the big four in recent weeks — Phelps, Lochte, Franklin, Ledecky — but, in Australia, the most anticipated event of the biggest meet of the year is a showdown between two other swimmers.

That’s U.S. Olympic champion Nathan Adrian vs. Australian World champion James Magnussen in the 100m freestyle at the Pan Pacific Championships, the latest head-to-head rivalry between the world’s two pool power nations.

Pan Pacs begin Thursday in Gold Coast, Australia, which is 14 hours ahead of Eastern time. NBC will have coverage Saturday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. ET and Sunday from 1-2:30.

Pan Pacs are not only the biggest meet for U.S. and Australian swimmers this year, but times from Pan Pacs and the U.S. Championships will also determine the U.S. team for the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia.

The men’s and women’s 100m free finals are on Friday night’s finals session, which starts at 5 a.m. Eastern time.

Pan Pacs women’s preview

In 2012, Adrian edged Magnussen for Olympic 100m free gold by .01, a sliver margin that drastically altered the perception of Magnussen, the biggest Australian swimming star going into London.

The Games were considered a failure for Australia’s “Missile,” who also led off the 4x100m freestyle relay team that finished fourth after winning the World title in 2011.

But Magnussen, 6 feet, 6 inches, stood tall again at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, winning the 100m free. American Jimmy Feigen was second, followed by Adrian in third.

Magnussen is the world’s fastest man in the 100m free this year, but his status as favorite is a bit in doubt due to a “pretty dodgy” back.

His biggest threat is one of his teammates, Cameron McEvoy, who is the second-fastest man this year. Adrian is third, his best time .49 of a second slower than Magnussen’s world lead.

Michael Phelps: The most decorated Olympian of all time is swimming his first international meet since the London Olympics.

It should be a busy one for Phelps once he gets going in the 100m free on Friday, followed by the 100m butterfly Saturday and the 200m individual medley Sunday. He could also swim in relays.

Remember, Phelps won zero events at the U.S. Championships two weeks ago, but he clocked the world’s fastest time in the 100m fly this year (in the prelims).

He is not the favorite in the 100m free (Magnussen, Adrian) or the 200m IM (Ryan Lochte, Kosuke Hagino).

But Phelps may just be the man in the 100m fly, where he will be out to flip his finish from Nationals. He lost to Tom Shields by .01 in the final in Irvine, Calif., two weeks ago. Unfortunately, the field is lacking the reigning World champion in the event, Chad le Clos, who is not on South Africa’s roster in Gold Coast.

The key for Phelps — and all U.S. swimmers — will be to see who has the top two times per event over finals races from Nationals and Pan Pacs. The top two make the 2015 Worlds team in each of those Olympic events. The top four (and perhaps fifth and sixth) in the 100m free and 200m free make it to Worlds for relays.

Ryan Lochte: Phelps’ longtime rival is entered in the same three events, plus the 200m free and 200m backstroke. It’s another test for a man who suffered a major knee injury in November, aggravated it in February and again in April.

Lochte said last week that the knee was strong but not “110 percent.”

Like Phelps, Lochte is not expected to challenge Magnussen and Adrian in the 100m free. He’s also not among the world’s fastest in the 200m free this year.

He appears likelier to vie for wins in the 200m back and, even moreso, the 200m IM, the only event he won at Nationals. The young Japanese star Hagino has been more than a second faster than Lochte in the 200 IM this year, though.

Here’s the full schedule of men’s events in Gold Coast:

Thursday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

200m freestyle
100m backstroke
200m butterfly
1500m freestyle

Friday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Thursday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

100m breaststroke
100m freestyle
400m individual medley
4x200m freestyle relay

Saturday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Friday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

100m butterfly
400m freestyle
200m backstroke
4x100m freestyle relay

Sunday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Saturday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

800m freestyle
200m individual medley
50m freestyle
200m breaststroke
4x100m medley relay

Phelps a vocal leader in Australia