By Mark Lamport-Stokes
IRVINE, California (Reuters) - Amanda Beard turned her thoughts toward competing in a fifth Olympic Games after qualifying second fastest for the women's 200 meters breaststroke at the Pan Pacific Championships on Saturday.
The 28-year-old clocked two minutes 25.52 seconds in the morning heats, with fellow American Rebecca Soni leading the way in 2:23.97, at the William Woolett Jr. Aquatics Center.
Beard returned to competition this month after taking an 18-month break to have her first child but the prospect of being in London for the 2012 Games has given her renewed motivation.
"It would be cool to make another Olympic team," Beard told reporters. "I am very competitive with myself, I always like to push myself and see what I can do.
"It's always fun to surprise yourself and I'm not old yet," the four-times Olympian added with a flashing smile.
A winner of seven Olympic medals, Beard booked her place at the Pan Pacs with a stunning performance at the U.S. nationals this month. Results from both events will determine the U.S. team for next year's world championships in Shanghai.
"Yesterday, I was like: "So, Shanghai. What are we doing about that?' My husband was like: 'Okay, it's still a year away. Let's calm down.' But I have to start planning. I'm really excited about that," Beard said.
Asked how she managed to maintain motivation in a sport requiring long hours of solitary practice, she replied: "I simply do this because I think it's fun.
"And that's where my motivation comes from. I don't have to be here. I don't have to do this. If I walk away from the pool today and never swim again, I've had a good career. You have to put it in perspective."
Beard's seven Olympic medals include golds as a 14-year-old at the 1996 Atlanta Games in the 4x100 medley relay and at the 2004 Athens Games in the 200 breaststroke.
Two Pan Pac records were set in Saturday's heats with American Jessica Hardy clocking 24.75 in the women's 50 freestyle and Brazil's Cesar Cielo powering home in 21.64 in the men's equivalent.
Hardy bettered the previous meet best of 25.03 set by American Amy Van Dyken in 1995 and Cielo improved on the 21.84 recorded by American Cullen Jones in 2006.
Double Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima of Japan was fastest in the men's 200 breaststroke with 2:09.23 while Ariana Kukors and Ryan Lochte kept the U.S. flag flying high by leading the way in the women's and men's 200 individual medleys.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)