OMAHA, Neb.— The first Nebraska showdown between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte came at the edge of a curtained-off interview room, not far from the temporary pool where the U.S. Olympic swimming team will be decided.
“I had one, but I had to shave it,” Lochte said, extending a hand to his rival.
“C’mon, man, you’ve got to keep it as long as you can,” Phelps replied, breaking into a big smile beneath all that hair.
The meeting Saturday between swimming’s two biggest stars was downright cordial. Expect it to be much different when they get in the water at the Olympic trials, which is being held at a temporary pool set up in a 13,200-seat arena along the Missouri River, just as it was in 2008.
Phelps is a 14-time gold medalist trying to put an appropriate finish on his brilliant career at the London Olympics. Lochte is the guy standing in the way, a laid-back Floridian who beat Phelps twice at last year’s world championships and keeps saying over and over again, “This is my time.”
Phelps has already hoarded more gold than any other Olympian, and he’s clearly regained the motivation that faded away after the Great Haul of China, where he toppled Mark Spitz’s iconic record by winning eight events.
As he was winding down from six weeks of grueling training in the Colorado mountains, he wondered why he kept getting up so early instead of seizing the chance to sleep in. Then, it hit him: He’s excited about the trials. He’s pumped about what he can do in England. He’s driven to end his career with one more dynamic performance.
“We’ve done everything. We done a lot of amazing things, a lot of cool, exciting things,” Phelps said, sitting next to his omnipresent coach, Bob Bowman. “Now, it’s just time to have fun. I’m a lot more relaxed that I’ve ever been. We’ll see after this week what size cherry I want to put on my sundae.”
Lochte has entered a staggering 11 events at the trials, though he’ll surely drop several of those and perhaps use others just for training purposes in the preliminaries. Phelps has entered seven races, including the 400-meter individual medley on the very first day of the trials.
Phelps and Bowman were coy about their plans, refusing to say if the swimmer will actually compete in the grueling race he won at the last two Olympics but vowed never to swim again after Beijing. He brought back the 400 IM over the past year and entered it at the trials, potentially setting up his first clash with Lochte, the defending world champion in that event.
“We’ve got a couple of hours to decide, don’t we?” Phelps said, chuckling.
Bowman chimed in, saying they actually had another day to make the call.
“OK, we’ve got 24 hours,” Phelps said. “In 24 hours, we’ll let you guys know.”View Entire Story
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