Michael Phelps continued his countdown to next year's London Olympics by qualifying fifth fastest Monday for the 200 meters freestyle final at the world swimming championships.

The 26-year-old American was third quickest in his semi-final. He had to overtake two swimmers on the last lap after turning for home in fifth and eventually posted a time of one minute 46.91 seconds.

"I don't really care where I am in the pool as long as I have a lane," Phelps told reporters after the race.

Phelps, who had said he will retire after next year's Games in the British capital, repeated a pre-championships prediction that the race would probably be one of the tightest, and exciting, of the program.

"Some guys at front have speed, and some guys close extremely well. You (are) probably gonna see a tight group tomorrow. It's going to be down to the last 50."

Germany's 2009 world champion Paul Biedermann won the semi-final that also included Phelps in 1:45.93, just ahead of American Ryan Lochte.

France's Yannick Agnel was the fastest qualifier after winning his semi-final in 1:45.62. Biedermann, Lochte and 400 meters freestyle champion Park Tae-hwan of South Korea were the top four overall.