US Olympic Trials, Omaha, Day 6 Finals:
Happy Birthday Michael Phelps - 27 today - and a fine day it was too.
With Phelps waiting in the wings for the medley, his understudy Tyler Clary stood in - and what a job he did in the 200m backstroke final. The Olympic and world champion, Ryan Lochte was not to be denied; neither was he able to rest a sinew in readiness for the 200m medley final to follow within half an hour.
Lochte, on 27.44, was 6th at the first turn. By the half-way point he was up to third at 56.45, Clary on 56.22. Those two then cracked on for the Olympic berths. At the last turn, Clary had it in 1:35.21, Lochte a hand away and ready to rocket off the last wall. A great drive later, Lochte rolleds into his stroke a little of the deficit sliced away but Clary refused to yield and it was not until the flags into the last 5m that the world champion appeared to have regained control. He stopped the clock in the world's second best time of the year, 1:54.54, Clary's 1:54.88 third best. Going into London 2012, Ryosuke Irie (JPN) leads the way on 1:54.02.
On the awesome mission of a day that started with 100m 'fly heats this morning and will close with 100m 'fly semis, Lochte said: "The best thing about swimming is racing and stepping up against the world's best … this crowd is definitely helping me to keep going. The last lap is brutal and anyone can say that you just want to get your hand on wall first."
For Clary it was swim No 2 in London after the 200m butterfly. He said: "I said last night and say it again, the amount of support of all you guys in here is great. I can't get over it. The first spot got the weight off my shoulders and helped me get into my groove."
After presentations for the women's breaststroke…
Goes to Michael Phelps a touch ahead of Lochte. What a race. It ended in victory for Phelps for several reasons, including an absolute refusal to let Lochte get his hand to the wall first, the Olympic champion nailing his finish with a sledgehammer slam.
Those splits tell it all. Phelps tried to exploit Lochte's dash from the backstroke final by bring to break away on butterfly. Lochte gave hardly anything away. Lochte tried to exploit his upper hand on backstroke. Phelps gave hardly anything away; Phelps was determined not to let Lochte enjoy the better breaststroke again - and prospered a touch; Lochte came off the last wall better and rolled level with Phelps for a moment.
Back in the days of Alex Popov, some of his closest races were also moments in which it always felt like he was going to win. So it seemed today, regardless of how tight it was, with Phelps, who said: "Those were two all-right races. It was right off, I guess, what I went last year in the IM, and I was just happy to be able to come back and do a 1-low, that's fine. I'm pleased with the 'fly, and I'm okay with the IM. A win is a win. Feels good to be back on that side, but I'm sure that's not going to be the end of us going back and forth."
He added: "I'm happy to have a good race like that and kind of hold it all together. I think one of the things I wanted to do in the IM is nail the back-to-breast turn and keep the breaststroke together.
I watched some things in the video yesterday, and I kind of saw some weak points in my race that I thought I could fix, and I think I did that tonight. I’m kind of used [to] Ryan having the 200 back before having to set the pace early. I know the 200 back long course is a very tough race, and I know it takes a lot out of your legs, so I wanted to jump on it the first 100 and see what happened.
"I think our backstroke we kind of let off a little bit, and we were probably playing that cat and mouse game again, and then of course the last 50 we went crazy."
The first semi of the 100m butterfly saw Tyler McGill go through at the helm on 51.88, Tim Phillips on 52.17, Ryan Lochte ending his big race day on 52.47 in third.
The bout came to a close with another leading moment for Phelps: on 51.35 he booked lane 4 for the final. Lochte qualifies in 6th equal.
After presentations, Phelps said: "Ryan swam three great races tonight. It's tough thing to do 200IM half and hour after 200 back."
Was he feeling better as the meet went on? "Physically I'm not feeling better," he said through laughter. "Its getting to be the end of the meet and we've got a couple of weeks to prepare for the Olympics. I'm excited."
The crowd sang Happy Birthday before Phelps rushed around the pool deck to hug his mum Debbie and two sisters, who handed the big fish a celebration cake - for birthday and a fine job on the day.