Ryan Lochte shakes hands with Michael Phelps before the medal… (JEFF HAYNES, REUTERS )
OMAHA, NEB. — — And now, they're even: Michael Phelps bested Ryan Lochte in a stroke-for-stroke 200-meter freestyle race at the swimming trials here Wednesday night, with the two rivals both qualifying to match up against each other in the London Games next month.
After Lochte beat him Monday night, again with both qualifying to pick the race up again in London, Phelps touched the wall first on Wednesday at 1 minute, 45.70 seconds, five-hundreths of a second before Lochte.
"Obviously it's been a while, so it felt better, but there's still some things I can improve on," Phelps said. "I saw the semifinals, and watching the turns. I just got crushed on the wall, so I tried to sort of use more speed than anything else and try to do that and take it out. It's OK , but there's still a lot that needs to be fixed."
Phelps and Lochte looked to be joking around as the Baltimore swimmer was about to receive his medal for the 200 free victory.
"We didn't really try to pick it up until, like, the last 75, so I'll save that for the Olympics," Lochte said. "It was a good race. ... I love racing against him, and it was really fun."
The race was the marquee event of the night, with the much vaunted rivalry between the two top male swimmers increasing in intensity as the trials progress. Lochte had won the first round, the 400 IM, and then the 200 free semifinal, putting Phelps in the unaccustomed position of chasing rather being chased.
"I think Ryan's really eager and I think Michael's just trying to get to the Olympics," said Brendan Hansen, who has made the Olympic team in the 100-meter breaststroke.
"The big lights for Michael aren't on yet. Rightfully so, he's [already] done the greatest on the biggest stage," Hansen said, referring to Phelps' eight-for-eight gold-medal performance in the last Olympics. "Right now, the motivation is with Ryan, and he's building confidence with each race he's doing, but I think Michael's just trying to get through this week, in my opinion … just to get to London."
But with Phelps evening the score by winning the 200 free, the rivalry could play out in see-saw fashion all week. Both also are juggling their schedules, deciding which of the events they'll actually swim rather than scratch. Phelps signed up for seven, Lochte 11, although he's already scratched one.
Earlier in the day, Phelps came out of the preliminary heat for the 200 butterfly , one of his signature events, tied for third seed going into the evening's semifinals.
Phelps had another swim less than an hour after dueling with Lochte in the 200 free — a semifinal in the 200 fly. Entering his heat tied for the third seed, Phelps qualified for the finals that will be held Thursday night.