OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Michael Phelps wasn’t about to lose his last race in the United States.
With his gangly arms cutting through the water, Phelps dazzled the home fans one last time.
Phelps made it three-for-three at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, rallying on the return lap to win the 100-meter butterfly Saturday night.
In what was billed as the farewell race in his home country, Phelps competed in lane seven after a sluggish swim in the semifinals. As usual, it took him a lap to really get going, making the turn in fourth place.
But Phelps powered to the front, as he’s done so many times.
Even with a long glide to the wall, he finished in 51.00 seconds.
When Phelps saw the “1” beside his name, he pounded the water and pointed toward his family — including 7-week-old son Boomer — up in the stands. He’ll now get a chance to win his fourth straight gold in the 100 fly at Rio.
When his longtime coach, Bob Bowman, asked for a game plan before the race, Phelps kept it simple.
“I don’t want to lose my last race on American soil,” he said.
Katie Ledecky and Maya DiRado also won their third individual events on the next-to-last night of the trials, while Nathan Adrian made up for the disappointment of four years ago by winning the 50 freestyle.
For Ledecky, it’s been the dominating performance everyone expected, this one a nearly 10-second victory in the 800 freestyle.
For DiRado, it’s been a huge surprise, the first-time Olympian setting herself up to make quite a splash before she retires at age 23.
A late bloomer who already lined up a job as a business analyst in Atlanta, she followed her victories in the 200 and 400 individual medley by knocking off defending Olympic champion Missy Franklin in the 200 backstroke.
Franklin finished second to at least ensure she’ll get a chance to go for another gold in Rio.
Phelps, of course, is also planning to retire — for the second time — as soon as his fifth Olympics are over. At age 31, he cruised through Omaha with victories in both butterfly races as well as the 200 individual medley.
Assuming he is on all three men’s relays in Rio, a virtual lock, he’ll get a chance to add six more medals to his already massive collection of 18 golds and 22 medals overall.
The second Olympic spot in the 100 fly went to Tom Shields, who touched in 51.20 to barely beat out Seth Stubblefield (51.24).
“We did everything that we wanted to do,” Phelps said.
Well, not quite. He’ll need to go even faster in Rio.
“A 51.0 is OK,” he said, “but it’s going to take more than that to win a gold medal.”
One night after competing in the 100 free, the 19-year-old Ledecky didn’t have quite enough in the tank to challenge her own world record. She finished in 8 minutes, 10.32 seconds, far off the mark of 8:06.68 she set in January at a meet in Austin, Texas.
The swimmer who surprisingly captured gold in the 800 free four years ago will go into Rio as one of the biggest favorites in any sport. Leah Smith took the second Olympics spot in 8:20.18 — nearly half a lap behind Ledecky.
Ledecky also posted Omaha wins in the 200 and 400 free, which means she’ll have three individual events and a relay at the Olympics. The only thing that didn’t go her way: a seventh-place finish in the 100 free, an event she only recently started focusing on in hopes of landing a second relay race.
Ledecky will be busy enough as it is.
“She’s going to tear it up,” Phelps predicted. “She always does.”
DiRado was nearly a body length ahead of Franklin in the 200 back with a winning time of 2:06.90.
“This is a dream,” DiRado said.
Franklin, a big disappointment at the trials but still set to swim three events in Rio, finished in 2:07.89 to hold off Lisa Bratton for the second berth.
“I got a spot and that’s all that I needed to do,” Franklin said. “There’s so much room for improvement.”
Franklin claimed her second individual event in Rio, having also taken the runner-up spot in the 200 freestyle. She’ll also swim the 4×200 free relay, a far cry from her grueling seven-event program at London four years ago.
“One of the things I’ve been trying to do this whole year is not compare myself to where I was in 2012,” she said. “I’m here to be the best of who I am right now.”
Adrian surprisingly failed to qualify in the 50 free at the 2012 trials, though he did go on to capture Olympic gold in the 100 free at London.
This time, Adrian swept the sprint events. In a furious dash from one end of the pool to the other, he touched ahead of Anthony Ervin in 21.51 seconds. Ervin claimed the second spot for Rio — one-hundredth of a second behind the winner.
“It’s an honor to come out of that field on top,” Adrian said. Looking ahead to his Rio double, he added, “It’s not going to be easy.”
Two-time Olympian Cullen Jones won’t be heading to Rio. The silver medalist from London finished third at 21.75, missing a spot on the U.S. team.
At age 32, it might’ve been Jones’ last realistic shot at the Olympics. He was the final man to climb out of the pool, soaking up the moment for as long as possible.
Then again, age hasn’t been a hindrance to Ervin.
The 35-year-old is the oldest swimmer at the trials, but he’s heading to the Olympics for the third time.
“I’m enjoying it more than 2000,” Ervin said, remembering his first Olympics as a 19-year-old. “That seems so long ago.”
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