Gauntlets are thrown throughout Olympic season but if Michael Phelps were a marksman and not a swimmer he would surely be portrayed as having hit a bullseye before blowing the billowing smoke into the face his duelling partner today: 1:56.32.
Consider the worth of that a smouldering 200m medley from Bob Bowman's Baltimore bullet on the closing night of action at the Indianapolis Grand Prix this evening, as South African Darian Townsend and world champion and record holder Ryan Lochte wallowed home in 1:59.28 and 1:59.37 respectively (no disrespect intended to them at this stage in Olympic season):
It was deliberate, of course - and Phelps bypassed the 200m butterfly to set the medley standard to ensure a worthy end to his Indy pool days. Excluding shiny suits, Lochte leads the heap with that sole world record to have got past non-textile, 1:54.00, with Phelps on a best of 1:54.16 in Shanghai last year. In textile, Lochte has swum quicker than Phelps's time today five times, Phelps six, every single one of those efforts clocked in a major international final or the domestic meet that got them to that final.
The splits from today's race - and the tsunami times from Shanghai last year:
There is training and the different stages of preparation for the moment that counts for everything and Lochte is not the Lochte he will be - but some dress rehearsals are worth paying tickets for.
For Phelps, the race was a fine farewell to and last lap of the Indy pool where his Olympic career started in second place as a 15-year-old over 200m butterfly back at 2000 trials. He set his first world record the following year, on March 30, on 1:54.92, the first sub-1:55 effort ever (By the time he lay his head to rest on March 28, 2007, he had taken it down to 1:52.09).
"Being able to come back and relive the memories and moments was really special," Phelps told reporters. "I'm sure my mom has cried a few times already tonight and we had a DP (Debbie Phelps) moment this week."
Phelps' sister, Hilary, posted Twitter messages that spoke of tears from the family cheerleading section up in the stands: mum and sister stood for the last 100m of the race, cheered and hugged as the son and little bro brought his days at Indy to a close.
"If I'd jumped under 56, I would have been ecstatic," Phelps said of his race. "But that's a half-second faster than my time last year. For right now, I'm very pleased."
Not long before the medley final Lochte, coached by Gregg Troy among the Gators in Florida, had raced to third in the 100m backstroke final won by Nick Thoman, SwimMAC Carolina, in a meet record of 53.95, off a 26.19 split. Cal's David Russell came home next, on 54.61, Lochte on 54.75.
"I think if you ask any backstroker, they'll basically tell you it's a leg event and it hurts," Lochte told reporters in Indy. "But I knew I had to do that double because if I want to do that at the Olympics, I have to learn how do that back-to-back." At the Games, the 200m medley clashes with the 200m back.
Meanwhile, meet records are not necessarily a good measure to go by (depends who shows up in what shape and so forth) but no getting past the might of Cailtlin Leverenz's 2:09.71 win for self and Terri McKeever at Cal. World record holder Ariana Kukors, Bolles, challenged on 2:10.76, with Elizabeth Pelton, T2 Aquatics-FL, third in 2:12.30, and 200m butterfly winner at the start of the session, Katinka Hosszu, HUN and Trojan, on 2:13.14
Leverenz, a warm-up in the 200m butterfly final behind her, now sits at second-best so far this year with the third sub-2:10 of the year behind Olympic champion Stephanie Rice (AUS) on 2:09.38 at domestic trials, and ahead of Commonwealth champion Alicia Coutts (AUS), on 2:09.83. Kukors's effort is 4th best so far this year, sandwiched between Mireia Belmonte (ESP) and Hannah Miley (GBR).
The Indy splits compared to Adelaide earlier this month:
Leverenz's breaststroke speaks of significance to a bigger result ahead. She broke 2:10 for the first time with a 2:09.39 last December after a 2:10.84 best the year before.
And talking of significance and breaststroke, Jessica Hardy posted a 2012 world-leading 1:06.12 in the 100m breaststroke.
Women's 200m butterfly
In-form Katinka Hosszu (HUN and Trojan), winner of the 400m medley at the meet in the 2nd best time in the world this year by a whisker, turned second in 1:01.76 on her way to a 2:07.58 victory.
Kathleen Hersey, Longhorn Aquatic, on 2:09.92, and Dana Vollmer, Cal, on 2:09.96 after turning in 1:01.76 before feeling the weight of preparation for the last Olympic trials in the sport anywhere in the world this year (in fact beyond a FINA deadline set to avoid an avalanche of entries on the cusp of the Games). Worth noting that Vollmer had clocked 2:09.86 in heats - part of an untapered job well done. In the race too were busy duo Leverenz, on 2:11.73, and Allison Schmitt, on 2:14 twice in the day.
Women's 100m breaststroke
In keeping with the ability of many Trojan swimmers to race fast throughout the season, Jessica Hardy posted a 1:07.66 warning in heats on her way to a 2012 world-leading 1:06.12 win that came off a sizzling 31.27 half-way split.
In second was 2004 Olympic 200m champion Amanda Beard, the 30-year-old comeback trailer training at Tucson Ford Deal, her 1:08.50 second-place 0.4sec up on Emma Schoettmer, an 18-year-old from Center Grove Aquatic, with 200m winner and improver in Indy this week, Micah Lawrence, SwimMAC Carolina, on 1:08.94.
Men's 100m breaststroke
Marcus Titus, Tucson Ford Deal, laid down a 1:01.01 marker in morning heats on the way to a 1:00.86 victory in the final ahead of former world record holder Brendan Hansen, a 30-year-old comeback trailer at Longhorn Aquatic, on 1:01.04, third going to Vladislav Polyakov, South Florida Aquatic, on 1:01.48.
Women's 100m backstroke
Melissa Franklin, Colorado Stars' 16-year-old, cracked the minute for the second time untapped this year, her 59.89 effort, off a 29.24 split, well up on the 1:01 and 1:02-plus effort that followed.
Women's 800m freestyle
Gillian Ryan, a 16-year-old training at North Baltimore and on her way through the ranks, raced on the coat tails of Kate Ziegler, Fish, up to 600m before surging into the lead over the next 100m on her way to an 8:32.49 victory, Ziegler on 8:33.86, third going to 17-year-old Rachel Zilinskas, of Germantown Academy, on 8:36.70.
Men's 1500m freestyle
Finnish 17-year-old Matias Koski, of Dynamo Swim Club in Atlanta, rattled past his own national record of 15:23.33 for a 15:09.17 victory and Olympic qualifier 0.1sec ahead in a stroke for stroke battle with 18-year-old Arthur Frayler, of Germantown Academy. The teenagers got the better of former world champion Mateusz Sawrymowicz (POL and Trojan), on 15:19.35.
The battle at the helm:
Sawrymowicz's pace was a steady slide off that of the two men ahead throughout the race.