INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Michael Phelps is back and he’s starting to get that unbeatable appearance, too.
The 14-time Olympic gold medalist beat Ryan Lochte again Saturday night, produced world-best times in two more events and left the Indianapolis Grand Prix with five gold medals — one for each event he entered.
Not bad for a guy who has competed twice this season and insists he’s still not 100 percent.
“In my eyes, it just feels good to be able to race and race at a good speed,” Phelps said. “After the weekend at Austin, I felt like I didn’t get one thing out of it other than feeling slow and out of shape. Being able to slingshot into this meet just shows how fast things can change.”
Lochte, the world’s most dominant swimmer in 2010, got a firsthand glimpse at Phelps’ resurgence.
The feature attraction in the three-day meet had Phelps, the two-time defending Olympic gold medalist in the 200-meter individual medley, pitted against Lochte, the world record-holder in the event. Two months ago, Lochte beat Phelps in the event in Texas.
This time, it wasn’t even close.
Phelps led Lochte by more than eight-tenths of a second at the midway point, extended the margin to nearly 1½ seconds at the third turn and wound up beating the fatigued Lochte by more than two full seconds. Phelps’ time of 1 minute, 56.88 seconds also supplanted Lochte for the No. 1 time in the world this season.
Lochte finished in 1:59.19, his best time of the year, but lost both of his finals matchups against Phelps in Indy.
“He’s back, there’s no doubt about it,” Lochte said. “I don’t think he’s ever not there, no matter what he says. I feel like he can step up and race any time.”
Phelps proved it this weekend in what may go down as the world’s fastest meet so far this season.
On Friday, swimmers routinely posted times among the world’s top five, and Phelps led the pack again Saturday.
The 200 IM final included four swimmers ranked among the seven fastest in the world.
In the 100 free, Phelps charged back from third place with his strongest finish this year. His winning time of 48.89 was another world-best. Matthew Grevers finished second in 50.01 and Olympic gold medalist Jason Lezak was third in 50.08.
“The last 50 just felt incredible,” Phelps said. “I felt like I really was able to build a lot of momentum coming off the wall. You know, I’m never really satisfied, but I am happy to put up the five fastest times in the world here.”
Lochte, however, struggled.
He swam two events Friday and three more Saturday morning, leaving the 26-year-old, three-time Olympic gold medalist exhausted.
He didn’t make the final in 100 free and wound up fourth in the B heat with a 50.78.
And though he completed a rare triple Saturday — swimming the 200 IM, the 100 free and the 200 backstroke in consecutive events — he only wound up winning the 200 back in 1:57.63.
That’s the world’s second-best time this season. Matt Hawes was second in 1:58.85
“I don’t know how that happened there,” Lochte said, referring to the win. “I guess out there in Lane 8, the other swimmers didn’t see me and I didn’t want to hold anything back. Being not shaved and with no suit, I’m really pleased.”
Phelps and Lochte weren’t the only swimmers putting up fast times.
Chloe Sutton beat two of her Olympic teammates in the women’s 800 free with a time of 8:29.20, No. 4 in the world. Kate Ziegler was second in 8:29.84 with Katie Hoff third in 8:33.24.
Canadian Erica Morningstar won the women’s 200 IM in a world-best 2:12.59.
Dana Vollmer, who won two medals at the 2009 world championships, took the women’s 100 free in 54.36, Mate De Angulo won the men’s 1,500 free in 15:41.58 and 15-year-old Missy Franklin of Centennial, Colo., added the 200 back title to her win Friday in the 100 back.
Franklin’s time of 2:07.96 was the world’s second best in 2011 and more than 4½ seconds faster than Madison White and she continues to lead the grand prix standings. Franklin has 77 points, Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli is second with 56 points, Lochte is third with 48 and Phelps is fourth at 36.
“I’m just having a fun time,” Franklin said. “Winning it (the grand prix title) doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that I’m having fun with it and loving it.”
But in Indy, Phelps’ return was all the buzz.
“I feel like I’m in better shape, I’m more confident now and I’m the water and I think you can tell that,” Phelps said. “One of my teammates even said I look happier in the pool, and I think that part has changed since Austin.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)