GOLD COAST, Australia -- Michael Phelps added "crazy, sideways rain" to the list of things he's learning from in his comeback to international competition and handled the bad weather conditions without too much trouble Saturday to qualify for the 100-meter butterfly final at the Pan Pacific championships.
The morning after claiming his first gold medal -- as part of a U.S. relay team -- since returning to competitive swimming in April after 1 1/2 years in retirement, Phelps was back in the outdoor pool at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre for the butterfly preliminaries.
The veterans on the U.S. team restored some order in the butterfly after some upsets at the nationals, with Ryan Lochte leading qualifiers into Saturday night's final in 51.55 seconds and Phelps just two-hundredths behind him.
Tom Shields, a surprise winner over Phelps and Lochte at nationals, was fourth in qualifying but didn't advance because Pan Pac finals have a maximum of two swimmers from each country.
Phelps, shivering as he did interviews, said Australia's winter weather wasn't a problem for athletes who don't focus on it.
"It's crazy with sideways rain. It was a little chilly out there," he said of temperatures that slowly climbed to 61 degrees Fahrenheit. "We've done a pretty decent job not really worrying too much about this and trying to go out and swim."
Combined performances at the nationals and Pan Pacs are considered in selection for the U.S. team for the next world championships, so Phelps has had to sharpen his focus quickly in his aim to return to the top of the sport. The 18-time Olympic gold medalist finished fourth in the 100 freestyle final Friday night before helping the U.S. win the 4x200 relay and still has the 200 medley on his program Sunday.
"Still learning so much about myself and so much about what I need to do," said Phelps, the most decorated swimmer of all time. "I am learning to try to overcome some of the stuff that we have down here. It'll just make us all stronger."
Park Tae-hwan, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist from South Korea, led the men's 400-meter qualifying in 3 minutes, 46.10 seconds, and Ryosuke Irie of Japan was fastest in the 200 backstroke qualifiers in 1:55.10.
In women's preliminaries, Australians Alicia Coutts and Emma McKeon led qualifiers into the 100 butterfly final, and Australia's Belinda Hocking qualified fastest in the 200 backstroke, just one-hundredth of a second quicker than Olympic and world champion Missy Franklin.
Katie Ledecky stayed on track for a fourth gold medal of the meet by leading the 400 freestyle preliminaries in 4 minutes, 3.09 seconds from U.S. teammate Cierra Runge, Andreina Pinto of Venezuela and Lauren Boyle of New Zealand.
The 17-year-old American, who holds the world records in the 400, 800 and 1,500, said the rain that has continued on all three days of the meet so far isn't too bad "once you get in the water."
Between events, she said, "It's really not that bad. I just try to stay warm, stay inside. Just keep a scarf and gloves and hat, and keep warm."