AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Michael Phelps knew rival Ryan Lochte wasn’t in the pool, so all he had to swim for was a good final time and a $10 iTunes gift card.
He got the time he wanted and a cousin or nephew will get the gift card he gets for winning the “B” final of the 200 freestyle Friday night in the first races of Austin Grand Prix.
When Phelps and Lochte finally squared off in the same race, Phelps beat Lochte in the 100 butterfly in the night’s only head-to-head matchup between them.
Phelps got another gift card for winning that one, too.
“You can fill up your iPod with those,” Phelps said. “So that’s cool.”
Phelps and Lochte are the biggest draws of the three-day event. Lochte was the world’s most dominant swimmer in 2010 and both are starting to eye the 2012 Olympics in London.
They were scheduled to race against each other five times over the weekend, but the matchup in the 200 freestyle didn’t happen because Phelps, who is struggling to regain his dominant form of the 2008 Olympics, was so slow in qualifying that he was the last swimmer to make the “B” final.
Phelps, who is sporting a beard and shaggy hair that flows out of the back of his swimming cap, said he was shocked by his qualifying time of 1:55.04. Winning the final in 1:49.90 felt much better.
“The stroke doesn’t feel as good as it should,” Phelps said. “There’s a ton to work on right now. To come here and be able to race these guys, gives me a little more fire. That’s what I wanted for the rest of the year.”
Lochte was far from his top form as well. He nearly dropped into the race with Phelps when he barely qualified with one of the top eight times for the “A” final. Both had to swim on the edge of the pool in lane eight to win their finals.
Minutes after Phelps’ win, Lochte won his race in 1:49.25.
“Our morning swims were very shaky,” Lochte said. “We always love racing each other. If we were together in the same one, it would have been a really good race.”
An hour later, they were. Phelps cruised to win in the 100 butterfly in 52.53 seconds. Lochte, who does not normally swim the event on top races, was second at 53.65.
“It’s tough. But it was fun to get out there and race,” Lochte said.
Lochte emerged as the world’s top swimmer last year after setting the only two individual world records and winning all five individual races he entered at the short-course world championships. He also beat Phelps in the 200 backstroke and the individual medley at the U.S. championships last summer. They’ll race the backstroke Saturday night and the medley on Sunday night.
Lochte said he doesn’t consider himself ahead of Phelps at the start of the new year. He knows better than to discount a guy with 14 career Olympic gold medals.
“I’m back at the bottom trying to work my way back up,” Lochte said.
Katie Hoff won the women’s 200 freestyle in 1:58.69, beating 15-year-old Missy Franklin, who was second at 1:59.0.
Eric Shanteau, who overcame testicular cancer to win a relay gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, won the men’s 100 breaststroke in 1:02.35.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)