In baseball it's three strikes and you're out.
But after losing his third straight race since returning to competitive swimming, Mark Spitz was smiling - after he got his breath back, that is.Spitz, 41, finished dead last in the five-man field in his first 100-meter butterfly since he set a world record and won one of his seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics.
His time of 58.77 was four seconds off the pace of Brian Aldermann, who won in 54.78. Spitz needs a time of 55.59 to qualify for next year's U.S. Olympic Trials.
But Spitz, who spent a few minutes in the locker room getting his wind back after the race, said he was happy with the way he swam.
"I feel great," he told reporters before organizers of the First Gran Premio Isla de Tenerife whisked him away.
Spitz has been beaten twice in 50-meter butterfly duels with Tom Jager and Matt Biondi. But this was the first time he raced the distance he hopes to swim at the Barcelona Olympics
"It's Mark's first 100 since 1972," coach Ron Ballatore said after the race. "He was very good through 75 (meters). He didn't finish well, but the time was fine."
Spitz started slowly and was third at the turn. He faded on the last 50 meters.
But he and Ballatore were unfazed.
"I feel very good about his chances of improving and making the standard to swim in our trials," Ballatore said. "He feels very happy with the way he swam.
"He knows he's progressing. He needs to get back to work now."
The meet was scheduled to finish Saturday with four events featuring 50-meter freestyle record-holder Jager, 100-meter king Biondi, Lopez Zubero and Mike Barrowman, who holds the world record in the 200-meter breaststroke.