Charlotte - Michael Phelps showed he still has some work to do before the London Games, settling for another runner-up finish at the Charlotte Grand Prix on Saturday.
The 14-time Olympic medallist was edged by China's Wu Peng in the 200m butterfly, losing to the same swimmer who ended Phelps' long winning streak in one of his signature events a year ago in Michigan.
"Sure, I sure hate to lose," he said. "But when it comes down to it, if I'm able to see where I'm at, see what I need to do and change, that's all I really need to get out of it."
Phelps was second all the way, trailing Wu at the first turn, then falling behind Sebastien Rousseau through the middle two laps of the race. Wu, who was fourth in the 200 butterfly at Beijing, showed an impressive finishing kick, passing Rousseau and Phelps to win in 1 minute, 56.69 seconds. Phelps was next at 1:56.87, while Rousseau slipped to third in 1:57.54.
"I know this is not the Olympic trials, this is not the Olympic Games," Phelps said. "It's a stepping stone heading in right direction for the end result. You've heard me say that so many times, but that's the truth. These are little things along the way - I like to call them quizzes - to really see what I need to improve on."
Phelps competed in only two races at Charlotte, also finishing second in the 200 freestyle. He will swim just one more meet, a minor event in Texas, before the US Olympic trials in late June.
For much of the next six weeks, he'll be locked away in the mountains of Colorado, just Phelps and coach Bob Bowman, training in high altitude and fine-tuning his strokes without any unnecessary distractions.
"I hope I come out alive," Phelps joked.
He knows the hard work is necessary if he is to make his fourth - and what he insists will be his final - Olympics a fitting cap to his brilliant career.
"I'm within striking distance of where I need to be," Phelps insisted. "That's pretty much the reason why we decided to just go to Colorado Springs and stay there until the trials. We do get a lot of work done when we go there.
"It's a tough place to be in and train in for six weeks. But at this point, that's something I need and something I know that's really going to help me."
Wu, who's made the 200 fly finals at the past two Olympics but has yet to win a medal, knows that Phelps will be a lot tougher to beat in London than he was in Charlotte.
"I was satisfied with my performance," he said. "Michael is not feeling good yet. I was just lucky."
Wu is realistic about his own goals, knowing that he has the misfortune of excelling in an event that Phelps has won at the last two Olympics and will be heavily favoured to take again at these games.
"If I just get any medal in London, I will be happy," Wu said. "Everyone wants to beat Michael because Michael is the fastest swimmer in the world. But I really just want to be top three."
Selected results on Saturday from the third day of the Charlotte
UltraSwim USA Swimming Grand Prix meet (USA unless noted; all distances
200 butterfly: 1. Wu Peng (CHN) 1:56.69, 2. Michael Phelps 1:56.87, 3. Sebastien Rousseau (RSA) 1:57.54
50 freestyle: 1. Josh Schneider 22.10, 2. Matthew Targett (AUS) 22.37, 3. Gideon Louw (RSA) 22.61
100 backstroke: 1. Nick Thoman 53.77, 2. Ben Hesen 54.19, 3. Eugene Godsoe 54.22 ... 8. Ryan Lochte 56.43
400 freestyle: 1. Oussama Mellouli (TUN) 3:50.17, 2. Charlie Houchin 3:50.85, 3. Connor Jaeger 3:50.87
200 breaststroke: 1. Eric Shanteau 2:09.72, 2. Brendan Hansen 2:11.74, 3. Christian Schurr 2:15.03
50 butterfly: 1. Matthew Targett (AUS) 23.11, 2. Eugene Godsoe 23.89, 3. Cullen Jones 24.18
200 butterfly: 1. Kathleen Hersey 2:08.68, 2. Elaine Breeden 2:09.67, 3. Kimberly Vandenberg 2:09.83
50 freestyle: 1. Jessica Hardy 24.83, 2. Madison Kennedy 25.01, 3. Kara Lynn Joyce 25.09
100 backstroke: 1. Elizabeth Pelton 1:00.25, 1. Rachel Bootsma 1:00.25; 3. Natalie Coughlin 1:00.83
400 freestyle: 1. Allison Schmitt 4:05.40, 2. Kathleen Ledecky 4:05.79, 3. Chloe Sutton 4:07.53
200 breaststroke: 1. Rebecca Soni 2:22.22, 2. Micah Lawrence 2:24.62, 3. Caitlin Leverenz 2:27.14
50 butterfly: 1. Dana Vollmer 25.80, 2. Claire Donahue 26.69, 3. Andrea Georoff 26.87