OMAHA, Neb. — Round 2 goes to Michael Phelps.
Getting back at rival Ryan Lochte, Phelps stretched out to win a thrilling 200-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic trials Wednesday night, setting up a duel in London that just gets more tantalizing with every race between the world’s two greatest swimmers.
Lochte won the 400 individual medley on the opening night of the games, his third straight major victory over the winningest Olympian ever. But Phelps isn’t going to go down that easily.
He got off to a stronger start that usual, leading at the first turn and holding the advantage through all four laps. Both swimmers got a big boost off the final turn, cutting through the water like missiles, and Lochte went stroke for stroke down the stretch. But Phelps stretched out his right arm at the wall, touching just ahead of Lochte. The winning time was 1 minute, 45.70 seconds — five-hundredths of a second ahead of Lochte.
Phelps’ victory was even more impressive given his busy night. He didn’t even have time to celebrate, hustling back to the warmdown pool to get ready for the semifinals of the 200 butterfly.
Speaking of busy, 17-year-old Missy Franklin left no doubt that she is swimming’s next big star with a stunning performance in the 100 backstroke, signaling a changing of the guard in an event Natalie Coughlin won at the last two Olympics.
Coming back to the pool just 20 minutes after qualifying for the final of the 200 freestyle, Franklin chased down Coughlin on the return lap to win with an American record of 58.85.
“I have dreamed of this moment, but I never thought it would come true at 17 years old,” Franklin said. “Dreams do come true.”
Coughlin started strong and was under world-record pace at the turn. But the 29-year-old couldn’t hold off two teenagers. Eighteen-year-old Rachel Bootsma got past the 11-time Olympic medalist, as well, claiming the second Olympic spot in 59.49.
Coughlin was third in 1:00.06 and has only one more chance to make her third Olympic team: the 100 freestyle. She swam over to congratulate Franklin in the middle of the pool.
In another final Wednesday, Matt Grevers captured the men’s 100 backstroke with the fastest time in the world this year, and Nick Thoman claimed the second spot on the Olympic team. Also, Breeja Larson pulled off a huge upset in the 100 breaststroke, beating Rebecca Soni and world-record holder Jessica Hardy. Soni rallied to get the second spot on the team, but Hardy finished third — about a half-second too slow to earn a spot in London.
Phelps scratches 100 free
Phelps has reduced his workload at the U.S. Olympic trials by scratching the 100-meter freestyle.
His coach, Bob Bowman, announced the scratch Wednesday night shortly after Phelps won the 200 free.
Phelps entered the 100 free mainly as insurance in case he failed to qualify for one of his better events. He actually swam in the preliminaries four years ago to ensure himself a spot on the 400 freestyle relay, but Bowman felt that wasn’t necessary this time. Phelps had the second-fastest seed time coming into the trials and he’s been on the 400 free relay at the last two Olympics.
Phelps still has four events left in Omaha, including the 200 individual medley, 200 butterfly and 100 fly. He’ll likely scratch the 200 backstroke, which begins Friday.