By Erik Brady, USA Today
OMAHA - The Greeks, who gave us the Olympics, knew a thing or two about heroes. They're great when they're unbeatable, like Michael Phelps in Beijing, but also great when proven mortal, like Phelps on Monday night.
Ryan Lochte, the man Phelps used to leave in his wake, won the 400-meter individual medley at the Olympic swim trials, though Phelps finished second and qualified for the U.S. team. That means the 400 IM that matters, the one for Mount Olympus, will pit Lochte and Phelps versus each other, and the world, in London next month.
"Whenever I go on the blocks, I always feel I can win," Lochte said. "So I knew I was capable of doing it and it happened. But that race is over. I'm not even thinking about that race anymore. I got so many more races left in this meet."
This was the first of what could be up to five more showdowns between Lochte and Phelps here: 100 and 200 freestyle, 200 backstroke, 200 IM and 100 butterfly.
"The first race is always the hardest," Lochte said. "I can take a deep breath now, relax, and whatever happens, happens."
Lochte won the punishing 400 IM in 4:07.06, fastest time in the world this year. Phelps was second in 4:07.89 and Tyler Clary, the forgotten man who led midrace, was third in 4:09.92.
"The excitement from the crowd we were all side by side by side and we were all neck and neck, and I was saying to Ryan (afterward) that you could see the flames going off and you could hear the excitement in the crowd," Phelps said, "and I think that (gave) me a little bit of extra energy that last 150. I was very pleased with that. If it was 4:07, I'd be happier."
Lochte came in as the defending world champion and Phelps as the world record holder and defending Olympic champ. Phelps kept alive his chances to win the Olympic title for an unprecedented third consecutive time in London. If he can do that, Monday night in Omaha would become mere footnote.