Ryan Lochte took the first round of his hotly anticipated summer showdown with Michael Phelps, defeating the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 400 IM to open the U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha.
The 27-year-old from Florida led from the outset of the grueling race to touch in 4:07.06, nearly a full body length ahead of Phelps. Lochte had won two world championships in the event after Phelps "retired" from the lengthy discipline following his victory in the Beijing Games. Despite Phelps' pedigree in the race, Lochte was heavily favored to win Monday night, especially after he posted the fastest time in qualifying heats by four seconds.
It was Phelps' first loss in a final at the U.S. trials since July 13, 2004, when Ian Crocker defeated him in the 100 butterfly. His defeat did have a silver lining: With his second-place finish, Phelps became the first male swimmer in United States history to qualify for four Olympics. The 14-time gold medalist is three medals away from becoming the most prolific winner in the history of the Summer Games.
Monday's result was stinging for third-place finisher Tyler Clary. The 23-year-old Californian was the silver medalist in the 400 at the past two world championships without Phelps. Now, he won't swim the event in London.
Phelps confirmed as much after the race, immediately dismissing speculation that he'd skip the race at next month's Olympics. "This is a baby step," he said of the loss. "Ryan knows that, just like I do, that the race that counts happens in a couple of weeks."
Lochte didn't disagree. Instead of puffing his chest at beating Phelps for the first time in the 400, Lochte demurred to the Olympic king in an interview with NBC. "I still think I'm the hunter trying to catch him," he told Andrea Kremer.
Nobody believes that anymore.
More Olympic coverage from Yahoo!:
• Spot on Olympic team could come down to coin flip
• Ryan Lochte asks for help shaving his back
• Tony Parker's night club brawl may keep him out of Olympics