Ryan Lochte showed no sign of a groin injury that has hampered his training, surging past Tyler Clary to win the 400m medley at the US swimming championships in 4 minutes, 9.98 seconds on Tuesday.
Lochte’s time was the fastest in the world this year, improving on the 4 minutes, 12.02 seconds clocked by Japan’s Yuta Horihata.
Christine Magnuson also notched a world-leading time on the opening night of competition, holding off a late charge by Dana Vollmer to win the 100m butterfly in 57.32 seconds.
Other winners on the night included Katie Hoff in the women’s 400m freestyle, Peter Vanderkaay in the men’s 400m free, Ariana Kukors in the 200m individual medley and Michael Alexandrov in the 100m breaststroke.
Michael Phelps took the opening night of the championships off, but is scheduled to swim five events over the next five days in a meet that will determine the team for the Pan-Pacific Championships later this month.
Times from the two meetings will determine the US team for the World Championships next year in Shanghai.
On Monday, Lochte said he was nursing a groin injury that was particularly troublesome in the breaststroke. He showed no sign of it, however, as he overtook Clary on the breaststroke leg and powered home well clear of Clary and Robert Margalis.
“My groin didn’t hurt. I said: ‘If it’s not hurting now, let’s push it,’” he said.
He did, and at that point, Lochte said: “I was like: ‘Man, I think I’ve got something.’”
He said he wasn’t surprised by the time, despite the recent hiccup in his preparations.
“I’ve done the work, it’s just a matter of putting it together,” said Lochte, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Tuesday and marked the event by wearing a pair of custom made sparkling green shoes to the starting blocks.
In the women’s 100m fly, Olympic silver medalist Magnuson went out strong and held off Vollmer, who settled for second in 57.45 seconds.
“I don’t know how far ahead I was, but I knew she wasn’t going to give me anything in the last 15m,” Magnuson said.
With the performance, Magnuson moved ahead of Vollmer as the top performer in the event this year. She also booked her spot in the Pan-Pacifics that start on Aug. 18, when the Americans will take on Canada, Japan and Australia along with a scattering of swimmers from countries outside the traditional Pan-Pacific club.
“I think me and Dana can really do some damage at [the] Pan-Pacs and worlds next year,” Magnuson said.
Kukors also came away satisfied, although her winning time of 2 minutes, 10.54 seconds was nowhere near her 200m medley world record of 2 minutes, 6.15 seconds, set in winning the world title in Rome last year in one of the controversial bodysuits that have now been banned.
“The 2:06 and the whole worlds experience was something I’ll never forget, but I got so much criticism for that time,” Kukors said.
Now that the suits have been banned, Kukors said, she gauges her performances not by that time, but by her “pre-suit” best. She said her coach had spotted “some errors” in the race to give her something to work on until the Pan-Pacifics start.
Alexandrov said he could also do some tinkering as he continues his quest to break one minute in the 100m breaststroke.
Alexandrov competed in two Olympics for his native Bulgaria, but switched his sporting allegiance after the 2008 Games.
His victory in the 100m breaststroke in 1 minute, 0.26 seconds gives him a chance to represent his “second home” at the Pan-Pacifics.
Hoff, who appears to be thriving after a move to the West Coast to train, won the 400m freestyle in 4 minutes. 5.50 seconds — her first national title in two years — while Vanderkaay won the men’s 400m free in 3 minutes, 46.88 seconds.
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