AFP/Omaha, United States
Michael Phelps will go for a fourth straight 200m medley gold in Rio after out-duelling old foe Ryan Lochte in a thriller at the US Olympic swimming trials on Friday.
The latest instalment of the long-running rivalry didn’t disappoint. Phelps, whose 2004, 2008 and 2012 victories in the 200m IM are among his astonishing cache of 18 Olympic golds, led at every turn.
But they were battling stroke for stroke on the final freestyle leg before Phelps seized the win in 1min 55.91sec — making him the second-fastest in the world this year.
“I knew going into this race it was going to be a dogfight until the end,” Lochte said. “I love racing against him. It’s so much fun.”
World record-holder Lochte, nursing a groin injury suffered in the heats of the 400m medley on Sunday, finished second in 1:56.22, securing his first individual berth for Rio and another shot at Phelps on the sport’s biggest stage.
“The journey is not over,” Lochte said.
David Nolan was challenging the duo at the halfway mark but finished a distant third in 1:59.09.
The ageing warriors, both 31, locked arms as they looked at the scoreboard and the crowd roared, Lochte later calling the moment “a little heart-breaking”.
“That’s probably the last time people in the US will see that, the two of us race one another,” Phelps said. “We’ve had a great history — in the 200 IM, 400 IM, 200 free.
“I think when we race each other we bring each other to a different level.”
Phelps believes he has room to improve before the Rio Games in August.
But the superstar, already qualified in the 200m butterfly, had work remaining with the semi-finals of the 100m fly less than half an hour after the medley final.
Phelps was third in his fly semi, sixth-fastest overall in 51.83 — 57-hundredths of a second behind the 51.26 of semi-final pace-setter Seth Stubblefield.
“That hurt! Two races in 28 minutes used to be pretty easy,” said Phelps, whose record-setting tally of gold included eight in one Games at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “My legs are hurting pretty bad.”
Ryan Murphy blazed to victory in the 200m backstroke in 1:53.95, making him second-fastest in the world this year.
Murphy added the 200m back to his Rio slate after winning the 100m back, and behind him Jacob Pebley won the battle for second place in 1:54.77, denying 2012 gold medallist Tyler Clary a chance to defend the title he won in London.
Clary finished third in 1:55.33 and confirmed he was retiring from the sport.
“I don’t see a reason to continue,” he said.
Abbey Weitzeil booked a first Olympic berth with a victory in the 100m freestyle in 53.28sec, with Simone Manuel second in 53.52.
Katie Ledecky’s foray into the sprint resulted in a seventh-placed finish for the freestyle phenom, who will return to the more familiar distance reaches in the 800m free final on — where the world record-holder is a virtual certainty to add a third event to the 200m and 400m she’s slated to race in Rio.
“It’s a good outcome,” said Ledecky, who was hoping for a sixth-place finish that would put her in the 4x100m free relay pool in Rio.
Even without it, she could be considered for the relay, which softened any disappointment.
“If they want us in that relay they can put us in, and if somebody gets sick, we’ll be there,” she said. ‘It’s a good outcome.”
Lilly King set herself up for a double breaststroke bid in Rio with a victory in the 200m in 2:24.08. The 100m breaststroke winner held off a charging Molly Hannis who finished second in 2:24.39.
The old-guard was out in force in the men’s 50m freestyle semi-finals, with 35-year-old Anthony Ervin topping the times in 21.55sec, ahead of Nathan Adrian (21.60) and Cullen Jones (21.93).
Ervin, already booked for relay duty in Rio, is seeking a first individual berth while Adrian is already set to defend the 100m free gold he won ahead of Jones in London.
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