Michael Phelps defeats Ryan Lochte in 200 free at U.S. trials

Chris Chase

Not so fast, my friend.

Michael Phelps came from behind in the final 50 meters to defeat Ryan Lochte in the 200-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic trials on Wednesday night, sending a resounding reminder that he's not a 14-time gold medalist for nothing.

Phelps, the defending Olympic champion in the event, pulled ahead in the final strokes to touch in 1:45.70. Lochte was five-hundredths of a second behind.

[ Photos: Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte square off ]

The highly-anticipated race was unlike any major one Phelps has swum since 2004. He was the second-seed and underdog. It felt as if he needed a win to avoid the inevitable media onslaught questioning his preparedness for London. Correct or not, that's the way the news cycle works. If you're not on top, you're getting buried.

He held off the shovel for at least another month.

Lochte beat him by a considerable margin on Monday night and was faster in each of the two qualifying races for the freestyle final. Nobody doubted that it was a legitimate takeover when Lochte took the throne as the world's best swimmer following Phelps' post-Beijing abdication. But it was to be a temporary placement. Then Phelps didn't return as crisply as expected and Lochte won on Monday night and, suddenly it was, "can Phelps beat Lochte?" Forget that he's the most decorated male athlete in Olympic history. Forget that the goal of trials isn't to win, but not to finish third. What have you done for me lately?

[ Elite Athlete Workouts: Michael Phelps' high-tech pajamas ]

"We're going to have a lot more of this," Phelps said after the race.

The two are scheduled to race again on Saturday night in the 200 IM final. For as great as that race may be, it's irrelevant. The final chapters of the Lochte-Phelps rivalry will be written in London, not Omaha. Still, this is one heck of a prologue.

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