(L-R) Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps react after their swims in the men's 100-meter butterfly final at the 2014 Phillips 66 National Championships at the Woollett Aquatic Center on Aug. 8, 2014 in Irvine, Calif.
OMAHA, Neb. -- One more time, for old times’ sake.
One more chapter, possibly the last, in a riveting story.
One more chance for Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte to have at each other using all four of swimming’s strokes in what Lochte justifiably called, “One of the greatest rivalries in sports.”
Friday night, these 31-year-olds will meet in the final of the 200-meter IM at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming for the fourth straight time. Phelps has won the first three, with Lochte second each time by a progressively smaller margin, just .09 seconds in 2012.
The changing nature of the sport has been partly responsible for making their battles memorable. Swimming rivalries usually had been very short-lived until recently, when the chance to turn the sport into a profession began to extend careers.
“In the past, no one hung around as long as these guys, so that’s what makes this so special,” USA Swimming National Team Director Frank Busch said.
Truth be told, it’s only part of what has made it so special. The more significant factor is that Phelps and Lochte have played off each other to record one remarkable performance after another in the event, with the record books providing ample testimony to just how remarkable:
- Lochte, the world-record holder, and Phelps, the former world-record holder, have combined for the 13 fastest times ever in the 200 IM.
- Phelps has won the race at three straight Olympics. Lochte was silver medalist in 2004 and 2012, bronze medalist in 2008.
- Phelps won gold over Lochte in the 2005 and 2007 world championships. Lochte beat Phelps for the gold in 2011, when each recorded his best time ever.
- Their rivalry also includes the 400 IM, in which Phelps beat Lochte (bronze) for the 2008 Olympic gold, while Lochte won gold to Phelps’ fourth in 2012.
“We’ve had some great races, and, you know, we’re right there (Friday) in the middle of the pool, and it’s going to be a good one,” Phelps said.
They set that up with the two best times in the both the prelims and semis Thursday, with Lochte faster in each.
“It’s definitely fun racing against him because he’s the toughest competitor out there,” Lochte said.
Phelps, easing up noticeably at the end, clocked 1:57.61, then uncharacteristically stood on the pool deck to watch Lochte in the second semifinal.
“We’re going to probably step on the gas a little bit more, and you’ll have an exciting race,” Phelps said.
Lochte, has yet to make the 2016 Olympic team in an individual event, earning a place in the 4x200 freestyle pool. Phelps won the 200 butterfly Wednesday night.
Lochte, hobbled by a groin pull said he took Advil during the day Thursday to get his mind off the pain, which affects him most in the breaststroke.
“Even if he is hurt, he’s not going to let anything be an excuse,” Phelps said. “We’ve had a pretty decent rivalry back and forth, and we’ve been able to really push each other, so I would expect that (Friday.)”
And hopefully, once more, in Rio.
Philip Hersh, who has covered 17 Olympic Games and was the Chicago Tribune’s Olympic specialist for 30 years, is a contributor to TeamUSA.org.