Lochte beats Phelps in first showdown at trials

OMAHA, Neb. — Ryan Lochte still has Michael Phelps' number.

Phelps, though, has put himself in position to go for another gaudy number: eight gold medals at the London Olympics.

Lochte won his latest showdown with the winningest Olympian ever, beating Phelps for the first time in the 400-meter individual medley at the U.S. swimming trials Monday night.

In taking the first spot on the Olympic team, Lochte extended his dominance of Phelps that goes back to last year's world championships, where the 27-year-old Floridian won five gold medals and both head-to-head races against Phelps.

"The first race is always the hardest," Lochte said. "I can take a deep breath now, relax and whatever happens, happens."

Phelps started strong on the butterfly leg, his best stroke, but Lochte took command when they switched to the breaststroke. He built a lead of about a half-body length and held off Phelps in the freestyle finish, cruising to the wall with one arm extended to post a time of 4 minutes, 7.06 seconds.

He got a kiss from his dad, Steve, as he came off the deck and a huge cheer from the crowd of more than 11,000 — including a group behind the starting block that waved "Ryan" signs and giant cardboard cutouts of his face.

Phelps claimed the second Olympic spot in 4:07.89, setting himself up for another eight-event program in London — something he insisted he wouldn't do again after the Beijing Games.

"I was very pleased with that," Phelps said. "I said if I went 4:07, I'd be happy."

Tyler Clary, who took second at the 2011 worlds, won't even get a chance to swim the event in London. He faded to third in 4:09.92 and was so upset he didn't bother stopping by the mixed zone.

Phelps plans to retire after the Olympics and is clearly eager to end his career with another dazzling performance. He already has won 14 gold medals, more than any other athlete.

That he is even swimming the 400 IM shows Phelps has regained the focus and dedication that faded away after the 2008 Olympics. At those games, he won his second straight gold medal in the grueling race, then insisted he was done with it. Over the past few months, however, he quietly put the event back in his repertoire — and now he'll be swimming it again in London.

Going forward at the trials, Phelps will be heavily favored to claim a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in four other individual events: the 100 and 200 butterfly, 200 free and 200 individual medley. If he swims on all three American relays, as expected, that adds up to eight — the number of golds he captured in 2008 to eclipse Mark Spitz's iconic Olympic record.

"Now we kind of know where he is and we feel pretty good about it," Phelps' coach Bob Bowman said. "This is the catalyst for everything else. When this goes well, everything else goes well."

A Beijing repeat? Could be, though it will be much more difficult to win eight events in London.

Lochte is standing in the way this time.

"Obviously, that's some pretty good competition," Bowman said. "He just kicked our (butt)."

Lochte is determined to repeat — even exceed — last year's brilliant performance in Shanghai, where he surpassed Phelps as the world's top swimmer. He keeps saying "this is my time," and his first event in Omaha shows he's still the man to beat.

"I'm definitely ready to tear it up in London," said Lochte, who is heading to his third Olympics.

This will be No. 4 for Phelps, who became the first American male swimmer to qualify for a fourth Olympic team.

In other finals on the opening night of the trials, Peter Vanderkaay became a three-time Olympian by winning the 400 free, while 19-year-old Elizabeth Beisel earned her second straight trip to the Olympics in the 400 individual medley.

Vanderkaay won with a time of 3:47.67, while hard-charging Conor Dwyer settled for the second spot on the Olympic team in 3:47.83.

Beisel won her event easily in 4:31.74, more than 2 seconds ahead of Caitlin Leverenz.

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