By Kevin Van Valkenburg
July 5, 2008
And neither time was good enough to win.
That's because Aaron Peirsol and Michael Phelps both produced world-record times in those events, highlighting what was by far the most exciting night to date at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.
Dara Torres - a 41-year-old with asthma who came out of retirement after the birth of her daughter, Tessa, two years ago - made her fifth Olympic team by winning the women's 100-meter freestyle. She's the first American swimmer, man or woman, to make five Olympic teams.
For Phelps, it was another signature performance in a career full of them. He wasn't ahead of world-record pace until the final 50 meters, but he exploded off the last wall (as he often does) and cruised home with a smooth freestyle leg, holding off Lochte and touching the wall in 1 minute, 54.80 seconds.
That was 0.18 of a second faster than his old mark, set in Melbourne last year. Phelps, who also broke a world record the first night of the trials in the 400-meter individual medley, thrust two fingers into the air in celebration, then pumped his right fist several times as fireworks exploded on the pool deck.
When Phelps' night was over, though, he wanted to talk more about his friend Lochte than he did his world record. Lochte's time in the 200 IM (1:55.22) came right after he and Peirsol dueled to the closest finish of the week in the 200-meter backstroke. Peirsol tied the world record (1:54.32), out-touching Lochte at the wall by 0.02 of a second (1:54:34).
"That's probably one of the best doubles I've ever seen," Phelps said. "To be .02 off the world record against Peirsol, and then to go the third-fastest time in the 200 IM within 25 minutes, that's pretty impressive. ... Every time I race him, it takes a world record to win."
The buzz around the pool this week has had people wondering what the swimming world might be like for Lochte if Phelps did not exist. Would he be considered the best in the world? Would he perhaps have a shot at Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals?
It's a strange thing to ask about someone who hasn't even won an event this week. It even fired up Phelps when he read yesterday afternoon that Lochte is the only man who doesn't swim for second place when he goes up against Phelps.
But it's praise that Lochte deserves. Even Spitz threw some of it Lochte's way last night.
"In the awards area, [Spitz] said if he swam two events back-to-back like that, he'd be in a coma," Phelps said. "Ryan and I got a good laugh about that."
Lochte, who broke Peirsol's six-year winning streak in the 200-meter backstroke a year ago in Melbourne, matched Peirsol stroke for stroke through 150 meters. The packed crowd inside the Qwest Center was roaring right to the finish.
"I looked over at one point and saw him flailing his arms, and I was flailing my arms," Peirsol said. "I thought I was ahead, then I thought he was ahead. It was just a really fun race."
Somehow, Peirsol got his hand on the wall first, an unexplainable skill he possesses that is rivaled only by those of Phelps and Gary Hall Jr.
"It's a lot more fulfilling out-touching somebody at the wall by a few hundredths than it is winning by two seconds," Peirsol said. "It makes it that much more interesting."
Torres didn't need extra drama to make her story compelling. The fact that she swam at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, before Katie Hoff was even alive, is staggering.
"I was shocked when I touched the wall," said Torres, who held her daughter in her arms on the medal stand. "I couldn't see the scoreboard. Maybe that's my age catching up with me."
Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun