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Phelps tops Lochte in 200 freestyle

Phelps and Lochte, left, check the clock after 200-meter freestyle. (Associated Press)
Phelps and Lochte, left, check the clock after 200-meter freestyle. (Associated Press)

OMAHA, Neb. – Back and forth they went, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte turning the U.S. Olympic trials into nothing more than a match race between the world’s two greatest swimmers.

They might as well have been the only guys in the pool, their arms whirling furiously, the two of them never more than a few inches apart. Then, at the wall, they thrust out their right arms.

Phelps touched first.

By five-hundredths of a second.

Sending an emphatic message to his biggest rival, Phelps stretched out to win a thrilling 200-meter freestyle Wednesday night, setting up a duel in London that just gets more tantalizing with every race.

“Neither one of us likes to lose,” Phelps said. “We’re going to have a lot of races like that over the next couple of weeks.”

Can’t wait until the next one.

Lochte won the 400 individual medley on the opening night of the trials, his third straight major victory over the winningest Olympian. But Phelps isn’t going down that easily.

He got off to a stronger start that usual, leading at the first turn and holding the advantage through all four laps.

Both swimmers got a big boost off the final turn, cutting through the water like missiles, and Lochte went stroke for stroke down the stretch.

But Phelps stretched out his right arm at the wall, touching just ahead of Lochte.

The winning time was 1 minute, 45.70 seconds.

Phelps’ victory was even more impressive given his busy night. He didn’t even have time to celebrate, hustling back to the warm-down pool to get ready for the semifinals of the 200 butterfly. He came back 40 minutes later to post the third-fastest qualifying time, moving on to tonight’s final looking to lock up a chance to defend the gold he won at the last two Olympics.

Missy Franklin left no doubt that she is swimming’s next big star with a stunning performance in the 100 backstroke, signaling a changing of the guard in an event Natalie Coughlin captured at the last two Olympics.

Coming back to the pool just 20 minutes after qualifying for the final of the 200 freestyle, the 17-year-old “Missile” chased down Coughlin on the return lap to win with an American record of 58.85.

Breeja Larson pulled off a huge upset in the 100 breaststroke, beating Rebecca Soni and world-record holder Jessica Hardy. Larson won in 1:05.92, while Soni rallied to get the second spot on the team at 1:05.99.

Matt Grevers captured the men’s 100 backstroke with the second-fastest time ever, 52.08.

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