Ryan Lochte downed Michael Phelps in the men’s 400m medley at the US Olympic swimming trials on Monday in a race that gave a glimpse of the fireworks they could produce at the London Games.
Lochte seized control on the breaststroke leg and held on to beat Phelps for the first time in the punishing four-stroke event.
Lochte won in 4 minutes, 7.06 seconds, while Phelps, the world record-holder and two-times Olympic champion, was second, booking an Olympic berth in 4:07.89.
Tyler Clary, the World Championships silver medalist behind Lochte in Shanghai last year, was the odd man out.
He finished third in 4:09.92, but only the top two finishers in each event in the eight-day meeting make the Olympic team.
Lochte, beaten by Phelps in nine prior 400m medley clashes dating back to 2002, said he was not trying to make a statement against the 14-time Olympic gold medalist.
“I wanted to win,” he said. “I wanted to get on the Olympic team. Now I can just do what I love to do, have fun and race.”
After making the 400m medley one of his eight triumphs in Beijing, Phelps had vowed he would not swim it again in major international competition.
“The thing it came down to — I wanted to do it,” Phelps said. “This is an event I’ve done for a long time and I want to finish off my career doing it.”
Phelps became the first male US swimmer to qualify for four Olympics. By qualifying in the 400m medley, Phelps gives himself a chance to become the first male swimmer to win the same event at three straight Games — although it is clear he will have his work cut out to beat Lochte.
“That time was not good at all,” Lochte said. “I know I’m capable of going faster.”
Lochte, Phelps and Clary were already all faster than the previous fastest time in the world this year — 4:10.26, set by Japan’s Kosuke Hagino.
Phelps will also be favored to punch his ticket in four other individual events, the 100m and 200m butterfly, the 200m freestyle and the 200m medley, all of which he won in Beijing.
If he swam all three relays, he could again have an eight-event schedule in London.
However, now Phelps will face tough competition from Lochte, who emerged from Phelps’ shadow as he won five titles at the World Championships last year.
That included victories in showdowns with Phelps in the 200m medley and 200m freestyle.