Thirty minutes after Ryan Lochte, who swam in three races, won the 200 backstroke final, Phelps, who contested two, kept Lochte from making it two gold medals in one night by narrowly upsetting him in a race in which he has won two straight world titles.
Phelps, the reigning Olympic champion, won the medley final in 1 minute 54.84 seconds as Lochte came home in 1:54.93. That gave Phelps a two-to-one edge over Lochte in finals this week, setting him up to enter the London Summer Games as the world’s most feared swimmer for the second straight Olympics.
“There are probably going to be some more races like that” between us, said Phelps, who turned 27 on Saturday. “It kinda seems like we play with each other; one person goes and then the other person goes. Ryan swam three great races tonight. That’s a tough triple.”
Phelps also competed in the semifinals of the 100 butterfly, posting the fastest time of the night. Lochte added the 200 back and the 100 fly semifinals, knocking off three races in one hour.
Phelps remains on pace to swim in five individual events and three relays in London; Lochte has secured his spot in four individual races and two relays with a hope of adding two more races before the meet is over.
“It’s probably the most pain I’ve tolerated in the sport of swimming,” Lochte said. “I took one at a time. The back was decent. I can go a lot faster in the IM. . . . The fly was, honestly, everything out there.”
At 8:15 p.m., Lochte dived in for the 200 backstroke final. He hit the first wall in sixth place, the second wall in third and the last in second, then methodically overtook Tyler Clary over the last 50 to take the title in 1 minute, 54.54 seconds as Clary touched the wall in 1:54.88. Rockville’s Jack Conger, 17, earned fifth place in 1:58.97.
Lochte caught his breath, swam to the side of the pool and climbed out, the first man on the deck at 8:17 p.m. With a wave of his hand to the crowd, he hurried off to the warm-down pool to prepare for his next race.
By 8:43 p.m., Lochte and Phelps filed out to wild applause from the CenturyLink Center crowd for the 200 medley final. At the start, Phelps made sure he got out fast, and unlike in the semifinals Friday, never surrendered the lead to Lochte. He led by .10 after the butterfly leg, .02 after the backstroke leg, and then inched in front on the breaststroke leg, getting up by .26 of a second.
“I kind of used Ryan having the 200 back to set the pace early,” Phelps said. “I know the 200 back is a very tough race. I know it takes a lot out of your legs.”
The freestyle leg brought out a brilliant sprint, as Lochte closed hard, pulling virtually even over the final meters. Phelps, however, powered ahead for the victory.