- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2012

OMAHA, Neb. — On Day 3 of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Michael Phelps finally took back the spotlight.

The three-time Olympian has 14 gold medals and holds six world records. But until Wednesday night, Phelps had yet to secure an automatic Olympic team berth.

For the first two days of U.S. Swimming Trials, Ryan Lochte was the name on everybody’s lips. On Monday, the two-time Olympian beat Phelps in the 400-meter intermediate final. He beat Phelps again the next day in the 200-meter freestyle semifinals.

But after diving in for the 200-meter freestyle final Wednesday, Phelps took off and never looked back.

He led the entire race, and with a time of 1:45.70, edged Lochte (1:45.75) to win his first event of the trials.

“I saw the semifinals, and watching the turns, I just got crushed on the walls,” Phelps said after the race. “So I tried to sort of use more speed than anything else and try to do that and take it out.”

Phelps held a noticeable lead heading into the last leg, and Lochte was tied for second at the final turn. But as they headed down the homestretch, Lochte caught up to Phelps, and the two went stroke for stroke.

“Like I said yesterday, [I knew] it was going to be a dogfight,” a still out-of-breath Lochte said after the race. “I knew it was going to come down to the very end.”

Unlike any other individual event, the top four finishers in the men’s and women’s 100- and 200-meter freestyle automatically earn spots on the team.

Sterling native Matt McLean, who finished fourth in Tuesday’s semifinals, also competed in the 200-meter freestyle final. With a fifth-place finish (1:46.78), he just missed an automatic qualifying time for the Olympic Team but likely will earn a spot on the 4x200-meter freestyle relay that will compete in London.

Bethesda native Katie Ledecky, who finished third in the 400-meter freestyle final Tuesday night, competed in Wednesday night’s 200-meter freestyle semifinals.

With a time of 1:58.66 - just two hundredths of a second slower than the eighth-place finisher - Ledecky missed a spot in the event’s final heat Thursday.

Her third and last event is the 800-meter freestyle, the preliminaries for which will take place Saturday.

The Phelps-Lochte saga will continue Thursday morning when the two compete in the preliminaries of the 100-meter freestyle.

Phelps also will swim in the final heat of the 200-meter butterfly Thursday night.

But just because he’s finally taken a top spot, doesn’t mean Phelps is any more relaxed.

“It’s OK,” Phelps said after his 200-meter freestyle victory, “but there’s still a lot that needs to be fixed.”

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