By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun
10:53 PM EDT, July 1, 2012
OMAHA, Neb. —
Surging to one of his trademark late-breaking finishes,Michael Phelpswon his final event — the 100-meter butterfly — at the Olympic qualifying trials Sunday night, and heads to London likely to swim the same eight races that produced his record-breaking gold-medal haul.
"It shows I can do an event program like this at a high level again," said Phelps, who qualified for five events in London and is expected to be named to three relay teams as he was in Beijing. "I think we were struggling over the last couple of years doing one event at this level."
It was not a pretty swim — Phelps called the first 50 meters "pretty crappy" and the finish "pretty terrible" — but it accomplished what he needed to exit the competitive stage in ambitious style in what will be his fourth and final Summer Games.
With Ryan Lochte swimming far from his usual center lane next to him and coming in third, Phelps also won the much hyped rivalry that was the buzz of the trials. He won three of the four head-to-head matchups against the Florida swimmer, who remains determined to emerge from Phelps' Olympic shadow.
"I have no regrets," Lochte said of the ambitious trial schedule that had him swimming three races, two against Phelps, on Saturday night. "This was a training meet. Last night it was everything I had."
While the race became the final installment of the on-going Phelps-Lochte showdown, second place and a ticket to the Games in the event went to Tyler McGill, 24, who trains at the New York Athletic Club.
"I had to make the decision this morning that I was going to London and commit to that," said McGill, who said it didn't matter that he was going up against Lochte and Phelps, the world record holder.
While all eyes were on the rivals, also swimming in the 100-fly final, over in lane 8, was Giles Smith, a 2009 McDonogh grad and rising junior at Arizona. He placed eighth, but Scott Ward, his McDonogh coach, said it was a good experience for him, five other alums and a current member of his Eagle Swim Team, Katelyn Sowinski, to swim in trials.
"The facility is absolutely beautiful, the crowds are very big," Ward said. "We remind them, it's still a 50-meter pool, you're not swimming any more than that" each lap.
Going into Sunday night's event, Phelps and Lochte had faced off in three finals. Lochte and Phelps went 1 and 2 in the 400 IM, but switched places in the 200-free and the 200 IM. They both earned spots on the London-bound team in those events, as well as one each in other races — Phelps in the 200-fly and Lochte in the 200-back, giving them a total of four individual events each.
Enter the 100-fly, which Phelps handily won, giving him his fifth qualifying event for the Games.
Lochte was a surprise competitor. The 100-meter butterfly is not his stroke, and he already had two tough races Saturday night without adding the 100 fly semifinal. It made for some epic racing, but it may have taken its toll.
Phelps, ever on alert for competitive advantage, said he used Lochte's jam-packed schedule, forcing a fast starting pace in the 200 IM. Swimming in adjacent lanes, the two tend to react to each other's moves — the cat-and-mouse game, Phelps calls it — and indeed, the two seemed to be swimming as one, although Lochte would end up touching the wall .09 second after him.
Phelps, who swam a triple in 2004, said he "would never sign up" for what Lochte did. "He's tough, you saw that" Saturday, he said. "He did a very good job of getting up and racing three hard races ... and did them well."
Now, with the trials concluded for them — on Monday, only the women's 50-meter freestyle and the men's 1500-meter freestyle remain — both are looking ahead and across the ocean.
"There's so much left," Lochte said of his energy reserves. "I'm not fully rested yet. Come London I'll have that full taper, and I'll be fully rested."
Phelps, who came straight to Omaha after altitude training in Colorado, will get a brief trip home to Baltimore before heading back out, first to training camps in Tennessee and then France, and, finally, to London.
"Being able to get a couple under the belt this week and hopefully build off of this, and we head home on Tuesday," Phelps said. "We have a workout here with the team, and then we head home, so it'll be good to get home and starting building toward London."
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