OMAHA, Neb. ——Michael Phelps, who turns 27 on Saturday, said his mother and sisters always say how hard it is to find a birthday present for him. And indeed, what he wants to open they can't exactly wrap.
Phelps will spend his birthday battling Ryan Lochte for the 200-meter individual medley win at the Olympic qualifying trials after finishing second to his rival in Friday night's semifinals.
He'll at least get to spend it among teammates from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club: Chase Kalisz, 18, of Fallston, and Austin Surhoff, 21, of Cockeysville, made it into the finals with him.
Phelps said he didn't get off to a very good start, and once he noticed that he and Lochte were ahead of the field, he decided to conserve some energy. At this point, day five of the eight-day trials, calendar management is becoming an issue. Lochte had a double-event day Friday and Saturday and Phelps has one Saturday.
"I kind of shut it down when the race was kind of over," said Phelps, who finished in 1 minute, 56.66 seconds, 1.15 seconds behind Lochte.
Phelps will swim the 100-meter butterfly preliminaries Saturday morning, the semifinal and the 200 IM final Saturday evening.
Asked what he'd get Phelps for his birthday, Lochte was caught unaware. "It's his birthday tomorrow? All right!" he said. "I'll have to think about" a present for Phelps.
Lochte did, however, promise "a dogfight" in the 200 IM final.
Phelps said the turnaround time Saturday for them will be shorter than what Lochte had Friday, saying the 40 to 45 minutes between his rival's two events is "not too bad."
In any event, Lochte came in first in both, the 200-back semifinal that Phelps didn't compete in, and then the 200 IM. Lochte, who has designs on emerging from Phelps' huge Olympic shadow in London, said his first race Friday night was a tough one.
"The 200 back is probably one of the hardest events known to swimming," Lochte said after the 200 IM prelminary. "It just takes all your legs out of you, and being able to come up and step up on the blocks, and race, like, Michael Phelps, definitely it's a challenge, but I'm up for it."
Coming in second in the 200-back was Tyler Clary, who himself has been trying to break through the Phelps-Lochte logjam at the top of his sport. Clary, coming in second to Phelps, previously made the London-bound team in the 200-meter butterfly.
For Baltimoreans, the 12th of 13 preliminary heats for the 200 IM were particularly sweet. Finishing first, second and third were Phelps, Surhoff and Kalisz. Their teammate, Kevin Webster, swimming in an earlier heat, also made the semifinals, but placed 15th, too low for Saturday's finals.
Kalisz says that he is "here for the experience." And what an experience it's already been. On the first day of competition, he seeded third going into finals, where he managed a sixth-place finish as Lochte and Phelps went one and two to earn trips to London.
It's the first trials for Kalisz as a competitor, having attended four years ago as a spectator.
"I knew this is where I wanted to be," Kalisz said.
Surhoff said after the prelims that he would trust his training to help him "hang with Phelps and [Ryan] Lochte at least for 150" meters in the later swim, although he ended up assigned to the second heat rather than the first with them.
"So I think I can do that. I've got a good backstroke, I've been working on my breaststroke probably for the last few years since I've been in college," said Surhoff, 21, who just finished his junior year at Texas. "I've always been a good freestyler, so I just have to do what I did this morning, just a little more adrenaline."
Surhoff is the son of B.J., the former Oriole, and Polly, herself an elite swimmer who trained at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and just missed making the 1984 Olympic team when she came in third in the 400 IM in the 1984 trials.
Allison Schmitt, who trains at NBAC, remained in the hunt for another spot on the London roster, advancing to the finals in the 100-meter freestyle. Schmitt won her heat and placed third overall, after Amanda Weir and Missy Franklin.
Schmitt, a Michigan native who redshirted her final year at Georgia to train with Phelps and Bowman, is already on the Olympic team after winning the 200- and 400-frees earlier this week. Bowman said Schmitt, 22, has become more consistent recently, something he attributes to her greater level of fitness, as well as working with Phelps.
"I remember when she couldn't do a push-up or a pull-up and now she can do three sets of eight pull-ups," Bowman said. "That's a monumental change."
One thing that has remained constant, those who know her say, is her relentless cheer.
"No matter what I ask her to do, she does it with a smile, and she thanks me at the end of the practice every day," Bowman said. "Actually every time she comes in to warm up, she thanks me, so it's just a joy to have her around."