OMAHA, Neb. — Looking to make it to the Olympics for a fifth time, Ryan Lochte missed his best chance Friday night, struggling to a seventh-place finish in the 200-meter individual medley final, his only final at the U.S. swimming trials.
Michael Andrew — 14 years younger than the 36-year-old Lochte — romped to victory by setting a blistering pace over the first three laps and holding on at the end to win in 1 minute, 55.44 seconds.
Chase Kalisz, who already had won the 400 individual medley at the trials, claimed another Olympic event by touching second in 1:56.97.
Lochte beat only one other swimmer, touching in 1:59.67. That was nearly 6 seconds off the world record the former Florida Gator still holds in the event, a time of 1:54.00 from the 2011 world championships in the prime of his brilliant career.
A tearful Lochte wouldn’t go as far as saying his swimming days are over.
But this was surely his last realistic shot at the Olympics. Though the Paris Games are just three years away after the Tokyo Games were postponed a year to this summer because of the coronavirus, Lochte will be close to his 40th birthday then.
“I really wanted to be on this Olympic team,” Lochte said. “This is probably my most important swim meet that I’ve ever had in my entire career, the one that meant the most to me. So falling short and feeling like I let everyone down was one of the hardest things.
“I still want to race, but as far as another Olympic trials, I don’t know about that. I’ll be (almost) 40. That’s pushing it.”
A 12-time Olympic medalist, not to mention the winner of 27 medals at the world championships, Lochte seemed to recognize that his legacy was greatly impacted by his shenanigans at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
During a boisterous night out with several younger teammates, Lochte lied about being robbed at gunpoint. His story quickly fell apart.
Lochte arrived in Omaha for the trials saying he had turned things around. He is now married with two young children, and they and his wife, Kayla, were all on hand at poolside to cheer him on.
Cradling his daughter, Liv, 2, made the sting of defeat a little easier to take.
“I had my family there,” Lochte said. “My kids (also son Caiden, 4) got to watch their daddy swim, so that means everything to me.”
Everyone in the race sensed the significance of the moment. Kalisz waited at the edge of the pool to dole out a hug. Andrew did the same.
Even Michael Phelps, Lochte’s longtime rival who retired after the 2016 Games, came down the from the stands to embrace Lochte.
“He’s a legend in the water,” Andrew said. “He’s done some incredible things. To share the pool with him is always an honor.”
Initially entered in six events at the trials, Lochte dropped most of them and went all in on the 200 IM, the only race in which he had a realistic chance of qualifying for the Olympic team.
He made it through to the final.
In other events, Ryan Murphy won the 200 backstroke, adding to his triumph in the 100 back, while Abby Weitzel won the 100 freestyle after defending Olympic champion Simone Manuel failed to advance from the semifinals the previous night.
Lilly King booked a second event in Tokyo, though she didn’t win the 200 breaststroke. She was second to Annie Lazor, 26, who earned her first trip to the Olympics.
Weitzell’s winning time in the 100 free was 53.53 seconds, with Erika Brown taking the second individual spot for Tokyo in 53.59. Olivia Smoliga (53.63) and Natalie Hinds (53.84) finished third and fourth to earn spots on the 400 free relay team.
Hinds became the first Black swimmer to make this Olympic team, an especially poignant moment in light of Manuel’s failure to advance. Manuel said she was diagnosed with overtraining syndrome — or burnout — in late March.
— By PAUL NEWBERRY
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