OMAHA, Neb. — Michael Phelps' 27th birthday began with Ryan Lochte trying to crash if not his party, then his 100-meter butterfly race .
It's a long-standing part of Phelps' racing portfolio, and while Lochte had registered for it, he was expected to scratch because he already had two races Saturday night, including a big one against Phelps, the 200individual medley. Instead, he opted to challenge Phelps in another race, and the Baltimore swimmer took the biggest piece of cake of the night.
Phelps won their big matchup of the night, the 200 IM , although Lochte was right next to him the entire way. At a certain points, they seemed to be swimming in unison, heads bobbing up at the same time in the breaststroke leg, matching stroke for stroke in the concluding freestyle, but Phelps finished first in 1minute, 54.84 seconds and Lochte touched .09 of a second later. Both qualify to swim the event in London.
“I kind of used Ryan having the 200 back before to set the pace early,” Phelps said. “I know it takes a lot out of your legs, so I wanted to kind of jump on it the first 100 and see what happened.”
What happened was Phelps led in each leg, even as he lapsed into the bad habit his coach Bob Bowman has called him out on — paying too much attention to his rival in the next lane in the second 50 meters of the race.
“I think our backstroke, we kind of let up a bit, we kind of let up a little bit. We were probably playing a cat-and-mouse game again,” Phelps said. “Then, of course, the last 50, we just went crazy.”
Phelps went on to place first in the 100 fly semifinals, where Lochte would tie for sixth going into Saturday's final.
“ [Saturday night] was probably the most pain I have endured in a swimming competition,” Lochte said of his triple swim.
But it was not all for naught: In addition to making the U.S. team in the 200 IM, he won his 200 back race, with Tyler Clary coming in second.
Still, it had to be a grueling night for Lochte. Consider, after all, this personal timeline: from 7:15 p.m. to 7:17 p.m. CST, he swam the 200 back; 7:45 p.m. to 7:47 p.m., the 200 IM; 8 p.m., the 200 back medal ceremony; 8:12 p.m. to 8:13 p.m., the 100 fly semifinal; and, finally, 8:26, the 200 IM medal ceremony It's no wonder that during the 200 back medal ceremony, he could be seen stretching his quadriceps.
Phelps had his own double-swim in mind all day. He won the 100 fly preliminary, racing fast he said, largely to buy himself more recovery time between his two races. His 51.8-second first-place finish got him into the second of two semifinal heats giving what he estimated was “an extra three minutes” between the 200 IM and the 100 fly.
“All the extra time is always good,” he said. “I'm happy with that. I think it's one of my fastest morning swims ever; it felt good.
Not that he was feeling his new age, he told reporters in the morning, because he felt much the same as he did before.
“I don't really feel any different,” he said. “I was talking to Davis [Tarwater, a fellow swimmer] afterward. It was like, after you get past 25, there's no point in counting anymore.”
Phelps was joined in the 200 IM finals by his NBAC teammates, Chase Kalisz and Austin Surhoff, and both have said that swimming against the sport's powerhouse duo was a valuable experience. They finished right up there, Surhoff fourth and Kalisz fifth.
“For me, it's a little less pressure because I'm not those guys,” Surhoff said after the race.
“That was so cool,” he said of how the crowd roared throughout the race. “I know it was for them, but I felt charged up just being involved in it.”
NBAC's Allison Schmitt qualified a third time for the London Games, coming in third in the 100 freestyle after Jessica Hardy and Missy Franklin.
Schmitt already has qualified for the London-bound team, winning the 200 and 400 freestyle events earlier in the week.
Phelps' training partner, Chris Brady, who swam with him in Michigan and now at NBAC, made it into the semifinals for the 100 fly, seeded 10th. He finished the semifinal in 11th place and won't go on to the finals.
As it turned out, it was his birthday as well, his 24th.
The Phelps-Lochte competition has helped sell out the CenturyLink Center, not just for the evening finals and semifinals, but on Saturday, the morning preliminaries as well. Each session drew more than 14,000, and subsequent ones likely will continue to be hot tickets.
“I'm sure,” Phelps said of their Saturday clashes, “that's not going to be the end of us going back and forth.”
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