A torch was lit for the opening gambit of the London 2012 Olympic swim programme this evening in Omaha, Ryan Lochte, world champion, holding off the rolling last lap thunder of an Olympic champion and world record holder four years past his best over 400m medley but now in line to become the first man ever to claim the same crown at three Games.
The first US Trials battle ended 4:07.06 to 4:07.89, Phelps having roared into Lochte's wash with a 28.30 last length that left Tyler Clary, almost level at the last turn, 2.03sec down on 4:09.92 for third in the world this year but no ticket to London 2012. The opening night also saw Lochte's fellow Gator Elizabeth Beisel shave 0.04sec off her own world textile best to win the 400IM in 4:31.74.
At the start of the men's race, Phelps led Lochte on the clock with a 4:03.84 world record from 2008 and a 4:06.22 world textile best from 2007 but lagged his opponent in the sub-4:10 stakes: between his first world title in 2003 and his second Olympic victory in beijing, Phelps had cracked 4:10 seven times, while Lochte, between 2007 and today has gone that way 10 times, his victory in Omaha marking his best ever in textile suit just inside his 4:07.13 world title from Shanghai last year.
The tussle was tight, Lochte victorious on breaststroke after Phelps led after 'fly, Clary after backstroke, all three in a line by the mid-way stage. Lochte took more than a second off those chasing on the way to turning into a last 100m that he must have known, as world 200m free champion, would deliver the desired result.
The splits compared:
"Whenever I go on the blocks, I always feel I can win," Lochte told reporters. "So I knew I was capable of doing it and it happened. But that race is over. I'm not even thinking about that race anymore. I got so many more races left in this meet." Such as five more events in which he may meet Phelps, over 100 and 200m freestyle, 200m backstroke, 100m butterfly and 200m medley.
"The first race is always the hardest," he added. "I can take a deep breath now, relax, and whatever happens, happens." Taper went well at the Gainesville programme run by US head coach Gregg Troy.
Phelps, coached by Bob Bowman at North Baltimore and sporting a best of 4:12.51 since Beijing 2008 until today, was thrilled too: "The excitement from the crowd we were all side by side by side and we were all neck and neck, and I was saying to Ryan [post-race] that you could see the flames going off and you could hear the excitement in the crowd, and I think that (gave) me a little bit of extra energy that last 150. I was very pleased with that. If it [had been] 4:07, I'd be happier."
In taking silver, Phelps notched up another line in history: he is the first American male swimmer to make it to four Olympic Games, his journey having started at 15 (in the 200m 'fly final) at Sybney 2000.
Read what Troy and Bowman have to say about their charges on the way to London 2012 in the latest SwimNews Magazine.
Lochte was the first of three winners - a clean sweep of victories on the opening night in Omaha - from the Florida Gators where Troy heads a team of coaches that includes Martyn Wilby and 1988 Olympic 100m butterfly champion Anthony Nesty. World champion Elizabeth Beisel clocked 4:31.74 for victory and the first US berth at London 2012, the time the best ever in textile 0.04sec inside her world-title winning performance in Shanghai last year.
Beisel arrives in London as favourite for the Olympic title, with Britain's Hannah Miley second fastest so far in 2012 on 4:32.67 and 2009 world champion Katinka Hosszu (HUN) close by on 4:32.83. Fourth in the world this season took silver in Omaha, a lifetime best of 4:34.48 granting Caitlin Leverenz an Olympic debut. In third place was Cammile Adams, on 4:38.62.
The splits compared:
Beisel's effort is her best ever and the 10th best performance ever all suits worldwide, while Leverenz got 1.12sec inside her previous best
Other qualifiers on the first night of action in Omaha included Lochte's fellow Gator at coach Gregg Troy's Gainesville programme, Peter Vanderkaay, on 3:47.67 in the 400m freestyle ahead of Conor Dwyer, 3:47.83, that locking out Michael Klueh, the second FAST swimmer to finish third, on 3:48.17, in the opening session.
In other action, world champion Dana Vollmer, Cal, cracked the American record with a 56.42 (off 26.42) that booked lane 4 for the final tomorrow evening. Closest so far is a long way off, Elaine Breeden on 58.18, the second berth wide open, the door to the final locked at 58.72 by Olympic silver medal;its in 2008, Christine Magnuson.
The session closed with former world record holder and champion Brendan Hanson, of Texas Longhorns, cracking the minute, a 59.71 "I'm back" off a 27.89 split. Closest too him going into the final is Scott Weltz, 1:00.20, the final locked in 1:00.83.
Follow our headlines @swimnewscom
Running in parallel to the meet, USA Swimming and its long-time sponsor announced the launch of, “Fueling Dreams for 40 Years,” a year-long celebration of Phillips 66’s partnership with the sport in the US that will conclude at the 2013 national championships in Indianapolis.
The federation announced: "As part of the 40th anniversary celebration, USA Swimming will join forces with its longtime partner to launch the “Fueling Dreams” video contest. The contest, which runs from June 25 through July 25, will reward the best video submission with a trip for two to New York to attend the 2012 USA Swimming Foundation’s Golden Goggle Awards, which honors the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swim Team." Fans can also submit videos online at www.usaswimming.org/Phillips66contest.