OMAHA, Neb. – Ryan Lochte still has Michael Phelps’ number.
But Phelps has put himself in position to go for another eight gold medals at the London Olympics.
Lochte won his latest showdown with the winningest Olympian ever, beating Phelps in the 400-meter individual medley at the U.S. Olympic 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 of his 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 strongly on the butterfly leg, his strongest 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.
Phelps claimed the second Olympic spot in 4:07.89.
“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 even bother to stop for the media in the mixed zone.
Heading to his third Olympics, Lochte is determined to repeat his brilliant performance last year in Shanghai, where he surpassed Phelps as the world’s top swimmer.
“I’m definitely ready tear it up in London and show the world what the USA is all about,” Lochte said.
Don’t count out Phelps, who plans to retire after the Olympics and is 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, Phelps won his second straight gold medal in the event, but insisted he was done with the grueling race. Then, in the past few months, he put it back in his repertoire – and now he’ll be swimming it again in London.
That means he could take another shot at eight gold medals, the mark he set in 2008 to eclipse Mark Spitz’s iconic Olympic record.
Phelps will be heavily favored to claim a spot on the U.S. team in four other individual events at Omaha: the 100 and 200 butterfly, 200 free and 200 individual medley. If he again swims on all three American relays, as expected, Phelps would have another eight-event program at the Olympics.
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 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.
Dana Vollmer, bouncing back from the disappointment of failing to qualify for the Olympic team four years ago, set an American record in the semifinals of the 100 butterfly. The defending world champion put up a blistering time of 56.42 to edge the mark she set a year ago (56.47).
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963