LONDON – Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte will be in the lineup Sunday night for the 400-meter freestyle relay final.
America's top two swimmers will join Nathan Adrian and Cullen Jones, with Adrian leading off and Phelps swimming second. Jones will swim third and Lochte will serve as the anchor in the fourth spot.
After Sunday's qualifying heat, coach Gregg Troy wouldn't say if Phelps or Lochte would be in the final. He answered a series of questions with a paucity of words and information.
Phelps' shocking fourth-place finish Saturday in one of his signature events, the 400 individual medley, led to speculation that he might be left off the relay -- or at least have to prove himself in a preliminary swim Sunday morning. He did not swim in the prelims, as the Americans qualified second behind favored Australia.
[ Photos: Lochte vs Phelps ]
Troy did say Phelps was "doing great" the day after his IM pratfall. Lochte's status was equally unknown. He was always considered a longer shot to swim the event before the London Games but looked sensational in his dominant 400 IM victory.
"He's obviously swimming well but doesn't have a lot of experience with the 100," Troy said of Lochte.
The two locks to swim in the final were the top two finishers in the U.S. Olympic Trials in June – Adrian and Jones. The safest play for the coaches would have been to pair those two with the biggest stars on the American roster, Phelps and Lochte, but playing it safe may not be enough to beat the Australians.
Troy had until 6:30 p.m. London time (1:30 ET in the United States) to turn in his lineup card for the relay. Five hours before then, nobody associated with USA Swimming was offering any hints.
[ Related: Ryan Lochte shreds the field in 400 IM ]
"You guys might know more than we do," Jason Lezak, who swam the anchor leg in the preliminaries Sunday morning, said to the media.
While uncertainty raged at the Aquatics Center, one American veteran was unequivocal in his support of Phelps. No matter how bad he might have looked Saturday, the king of the pool belongs on the American relay in the mind of Lezak.
"The 400 IM and the 100 free have nothing in common," Lezak said. "If I'm a coach, Michael's on that relay.
"Michael went a 48.4 [seconds] unshaved this year. He's been leading off relays for a lot of years. I don't really think it should be a question."
The American coaches played the prelims by the book. They took the third through sixth finishers in the 100 free at the Olympic Trials in Omaha last month and used them Sunday morning, leaving top finishers Nathan Adrian and Cullen Jones for the final.
The drama centered on who would join them. Would it be relay veteran Phelps and ascending star Lochte? Or would one of them be bumped in favor of Matt Grevers, who swam a sizzling prelim leg at 47.62?
[ Photos: Ryan Lochte steals spotlight in London ]
To beat the Australians, the U.S. likely will need to find four swimmers who can break 48 seconds in the 100. And there is plenty of additional competition for the medal podium from the Russians, South Africans and others.
"This is probably the best 400 free relay field ever," Troy said.
Lezak's morning anchor split of 48.04, while solid, was a far cry from the epic swim of four years ago. In overhauling French star Alain Bernard to win the gold medal, Lezak split an astonishing 46.6 – the fastest anyone has ever swam 100 meters. It should be noted that Jones, who will swim Sunday night, imperiled the Americans' chances four years ago with a notably slow third leg.
Another consideration for U.S. coaches with both Grevers and Lochte: They have semifinal swims Sunday night in individual events. Grevers is seeded first in the 100 back and Lochte second in the 200 free.
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