This week in Omaha, Neb., America's best athletes in perhaps its finest Olympic discipline find themselves locked in an aquatic battle royale for precious spots on the U.S. swim team and a trip to the London 2012 Olympics.
We media types call it the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, but you may know it simply as swimming nirvana.
Stay tuned for updates, recaps and reaction from the eight-day swim to London.
GEMMELL WINS MEN'S 1,500 FREE TO WRAP UP US SWIM TRIALS
Chad La Tourette took an early lead in the men's 1,500-meter freestyle final, leading 25 of 30 lengths of the grueling distance race before falling behind Andrew Gemmell and Connor Jaeger.
Gemmell and Jaeger would not relinquish their lead for the final five lengths, and Gemmell won with a time of 14 minutes, 52.19 seconds. Jaeger finished in 14:52.51.
All of the top three times—La Tourette finished in 14:57.53—were good enough for top 10 in the world this year, but La Tourette will be ruing the opportunity he let slip away from him in the last one-sixth of the 1,500 free.
Peter Vanderkaay finished in fourth place, and although he is still headed to London as winner of the men's 400-meter freestyle, he was the pre-race favorite in the 1,500 free also. He finished in 15:03.37, 11.18 seconds behind Gemmell.
JESSICA HARDY WINS WOMEN'S 50 FREE; DARA TORRES FAILS TO QUALIFY
Jessica Hardy won the race in 24.5 seconds, and Kara Joyce will join her in London by finishing second, in 24.73.
It was her slow reaction time off the blocks that prevented Torres from making a more serious run at qualification. Her reaction time of 0.72 seconds was tied for the worst in the field.
In a fast, tight race such as the 50 free, everything has to come together for a swimmer to qualify, and that didn't happen for Torres on Monday night.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: MONDAY, JULY 2
Is this the last stand of Dara Torres?
I wouldn't be so sure.
The 45-year-old sprinting legend seemed a long shot to make the Olympic team heading into Omaha. But after a surprising semifinal swim in the women's 50-meter freestyle, Torres enters tonight's final with the third-best qualifying time.
Christine Magnnuson and Jessica Hardy—19 and 20 years younger than Torres, respectively—are the most likely top two, but don't count out the veteran in a race given to upsets.
Then there's always the chance she returns in 2016. And don't try to counter that with logic. We're talking Torres here.
The final event of the evening and the week takes place in the men's 1,500 free.
This won't be one of America's stronger events in London, but pre-race favorite Peter Vanderkaay could enter the conversation for a bronze medal (gold and silver will almost certainly go to China's Sun Yang and Canada's Ryan Cochrane).
ADRIAN UPSET IN 50M FREE FINAL
Nathan Adrian, a U.S. Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter freestyle, surprisingly failed to secure a spot in the 50 free competition at the London Games. The 23-year-old won the 50 free title at the 2011 national championship, but settled for third place in Sunday night's event final.
His time of 21.68 was outdone by Cullen Jones and Anthony Ervin, who finished first and second, respectively.
Ervin, 31, is a two-time gold medalist. He earned gold and silver at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Ervin retired from competitive swimming in 2003 but began training for a return last year. His second-place finish (21.60) completes the comeback and sends him to London.
Jones, who was a member of the U.S. gold medal-winning 4x100 relay team at the 2008 Games in Beijing, finished first in 21.59. The 28-year-old will compete in both the 50- and 100 free in London.
And with that, the action in Omaha has reached a conclusion. Now we can get started on analyzing this impressive American swimming roster.
ZIEGLER, LEDECKY HEADED TO LONDON IN 800M FREE
Olympic veteran Kate Ziegler capitalized on her last chance to qualify for the London Games. The 24-year-old, who joined Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Games for 400- and 800-meter freestyle competition, finished second in Sunday night's 800 free final to secure a return trip to the Olympics.
Ziegler posted a time of 8:21.87, trailing only Kathleen Ledecky.
Ledecky, who is just 15 years old, will be among America's youngest competitors in London. She finished the final in 8:19.78
The Maryland native posted the second-fastest time in the world this year.
"I was really surprised with how fast I went out," she told NBC's Andrea Kremer during a post-race interview. "I wasn't really expecting it but I went with it and kept going."
That effort is taking the youngster overseas, where she will match up with the world's elite.
PHELPS SETS HIMSELF UP FOR RUN AT THIRD STRAIGHT 100M FLY GOLD
Micahel Phelps took on American rival Ryan Lochte yet again on Sunday night. As expected, their fourth finals meeting of the U.S. Olympic Trials didn't include the dramatics of the first three showdowns.
Phelps took care of business in an event he has owned for nearly a decade. The two-time defending 100 fly gold medalist took first place, registering a 2012 world-best 51.14.
Lochte, who turned some heads when he decided to chase an Olympic berth in the 100 fly, posted a third-place finish. He will not compete in the event at the London Games but did qualify for four individual events during trials in Omaha.
Runner-up Tyler McGill is bound for his first Olympic appearance after posting a 51.32, the second-fastest recorded time in the world this year.
But of course, the story here is Phelps. Needing just three medals to break the all-time Olympic record, he has the opportunity to participate in eight events in London.
With those numbers, you have to like the swimming legend's odds to make history once again.
FRANKLIN QUALIFIES FOR FOURTH INDIVIDUAL OLYMPIC EVENT
No female swimmer has ever won seven medals in one Summer Olympics. Missy Franklin, America's 17-year-old sensation, will at least have a chance to make history in London after qualifying for her fourth individual event Sunday night (she is likely to compete on three Olympic relay teams as well).
Franklin surged to a first-place finish in the 200-meter backstroke finals, capping out a coming-out-party in Omaha. Competing in a group loaded with youth - seven of the eight finalists are in their teens - Franklin maintained about a body's length lead for much of the race.
Her winning time of 2:06.12 is the fastest in the world this year. The emerging superstar seemed relaxed when discussing her performance after the win.
"It felt really good, 200 back is my favorite event." Franklin told NBC's Andrea Kremer in a post-race interview.
Elizabeth Beisel, who had already qualified for a spot on Team USA, finished second and will compete in the 200 back at the Olympics.
Elizabeth Pelton settled for third place, falling a half-second short of qualifying for the London Games.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: SUNDAY, JULY 1
While Janet Evans and Brendan Hansen continue to steal headlines, the most under-reported comeback story of U.S. Trials keeps getting better.
Anthony Ervin, a 2000 gold medalist, returned to swimming in 2011 after an eight-year absence and has now qualified for Sunday's men's 50-meter final with the field's best time.
Ervin, 31, left the sport in 2003, right before what should have been his prime. He traveled, played music, read books and was essentially incommunicado with the rest of the swimming world.
When reporters tried to track him down, the deep-thinking Ervin would respond with esoteric missives like:
“White whale, eh? Don’t you know what happens to Ahab? There are lessons to be learned in literature, but perhaps fate has already spun into her wheel that learning from precept may not be enough for you.”
Ervin has long been revered for the almost effortless mechanics of his free style stroke. He's a natural—like Roy Hobbs crossed with Siddhartha crossed with Don Schollander.
All of which only adds to the intrigue surrounding Ervin. Philosopher-athlete leaves sport at his physical peak, wanders world, returns, displays preternatural gifts...makes Olympic team?
Other finals to watch:
— Contrary to expectations, it appears Ryan Lochte will swim in the men's 100-meter butterfly final against Michael Phelps on Sunday. That means a fourth showdown between the two rivals, though I'd expect considerably less hype for this race compared to the three previous installments. Phelps is the two-time defending Olympic champion in 100 fly and a prohibitive favorite. Lochte is swimming to test his fitness and see if he can add a fifth individual event for London. Not exactly a stare-down. Even if Lochte qualifies, his coach told USA Today he won't necessarily contest the event later this summer. Tyler McGill is the other name to watch in this field. McGill won a bronze medal in 100 fly at 2011 worlds and qualified for Sunday's final in the second-fastest time (Phelps was first).
— Missy Franklin goes head-up with fellow teenagers Elizabeth Pelton and Elizabeth Beisel in the 200-meter backstroke. This is Franklin's strongest event and it represents her best chance of winning an individual gold medal in London. If she finishes in the top two Sunday as expected, Franklin will have qualified for four individual events. Oh yeah, and she's 17 years old.
— Dara Torres swims the preliminary and (if she advances) semifinal rounds of the women's 50-meter freestyle in pursuit of her sixth Olympic team.
— Kate Ziegler enters the women's 800-meter freestyle final as the favorite. Kathleen Ledecky and Chloe Sutton are also in the mix for an Olympic berth. Ziegler should be a major player in the medal hunt come London
FIELDS SET FOR MEN'S 100 FLY, 50 FREE FINALS
Ryan Lochte capped off a night of three swims in less than an hour—two of which were finals—by qualifying for the men's 100-meter butterfly finals. Swimming in the first semifinal heat, Lochte swam the race in 52.47 seconds to finish third in the heat and tied for sixth overall.
Michael Phelps also advanced with a time of 51.35 seconds, swimming the second semifinal in a world-leading time and qualifying in first place. It was Phelps' second swim of the night.
Earlier in the day, 31-year-old Anthony Ervin led the field in the 50-meter freestyle semifinals. Nathan Adrian and Josh Schneider tied for second place in a dead heat, swimming in the same semifinal race.
The finals for both the 100 fly and 50 free will be on Sunday.
FRANKLIN, HARDY AND COUGHLIN IN 100 FREE IN LONDON
Missy Franklin finished in second after being in seventh place at the turn, and Natalie Coughlin snuck into sixth place to ensure she will be in London for the 4x100 relay. It will be Coughlin's third straight appearance at the Olympic Games.
PHELPS WINS 200 IM, ANOTHER BATTLE OVER LOCHTE
Less than half an hour after his last final, Ryan Lochte didn't have the stamina to beat Michael Phelps in the men's 200-meter individual medley. They hit the two top times in the world on Saturday, with Phelps swimming it in 1 minute, 54.84 seconds, while Lochte swam 1:54.93.
Both Phelps and Lochte have now qualified for four individual events in London.
Third-place finisher Conor Dwyer was four seconds behind Lochte (1:58.92), showing the top two's dominance of the event.
One last matchup between Phelps and Lochte will take place on Sunday, with both in separate heats of the 100-meter butterfly semifinals late Saturday.
FRANKLIN, BEISEL LEAD THE FIELD INTO 200 BACK FINALS
In the women's 200-meter backstroke semifinals, Missy Franklin and Elizabeth Beisel, closely followed by Elizabeth Pelton, led the competitors in advancing to the final.
This could be a three-woman race on Sunday, with Franklin likely to win and Beisel and Pelton battling for the second available Olympic spot on the U.S. team.
LOCHTE WINS 200 BACK FINAL; BEARD AND EVANS END COMEBACK BIDS
Ryan Lochte won another final and will participate in the men's 200-meter backstroke in London. He didn't give all that he could in the race because his matchup with Michael Phelps in the 200-meter individual medley looms in about half an hour.
Tyler Clary also qualified for the Olympics in the 200 back. Lochte won the race with a time of 1 minute, 54.54 seconds, while Clary was behind him in 1:54.88.
In the women's 200-meter breaststroke final, Rebecca Soni won in 2:21.13. Micah Lawrence will join Soni in London, as she finished second.
Amanda Beard's bid for an Olympic comeback ended with that race, as she finished in fifth place, three shy of qualifying. In Beard's last Olympics, Athens 2004, she won the 200 breast.
Earlier in the day, Janet Evans failed to advance in the women's 800-meter freestyle, finishing 53rd out of 65 in the preliminaries. She was still wet from the pool when she signed her retirement papers. Evans' last Olympic participation was in 1996.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: SATURDAY, JUNE 30
Phelps! Lochte! Rubber match!
On Saturday, Omaha's headline-dominating aquatic titans will rendezvous one last time in the finals of the men's 200-meter individual medley.
Winner gets bragging rights and a big burst of momentum, having won two of three event finals against his rival during U.S. Olympic Trials. Loser looks for answers as the clock ticks towards London.
No doubt, it's a biggie. But swimming's leading alpha males will have to worry about more than just one another on this busy night of racing.
For Lochte, the 200 IM final will come just minutes after his final swim in the 200 back, an event he's expected to win here and in London. Phelps will swim the preliminary and semifinal rounds of the 100 fly.
Then there's this little nugget: Lochte might just join his rival in that 100 fly, at least according to his coach, Gregg Troy.
Expected to drop the event, it appears Lochte will at least contest his preliminary heat. Were Lochte to follow through to Sunday's final, it would likely set up a surprise fourth showdown between he and Phelps.
(Nation rubs hands together, licks lips, drools on self)
And we haven't even mentioned all the non-Phelps-Lochte fare on tonight's menu.
Quickly, we have:
— Teen star Missy Franklin versus super-stud Allison Schmitt in the women's 100 free (with veterans Natalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer waiting in the wings).
— Rebecca Soni out to dominate the women's 200 breaststroke while former teen prodigy Amanda Beard seeks a spot on her fifth Olympic team.
— The Janet Evans suiting up one last time in the 800 free prelims, hoping against all hope to qualify for Sunday's final. Evans, 40, last competed at US Trials in 1996—the same year Macarena topped the charts (for those seeking a barometric cultural reference).
LOCHTE EDGES PHELPS IN 200 IM SEMIFINAL
Less than an hour after leading the pack in the 200-meter backstroke semifinals, Ryan Lochte beat out Michael Phelps for first place in their 200 individual medley semifinal heat on Friday night. Lochte, the event's world-record holder, finished in 1:55.51, the fastest time clocked in the world this year.
It was the swimming superstars' fourth meeting in three events at the U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha. In all four matchups - three of which have been won by Lochte - they have swam side-by-side in neighboring lanes.
The pair of powerhouse performers surged ahead of the pack early and looked like men among boys. Both claimed about a body-length lead through 100 meters and built a remarkable cushion between them and the rest of the group by race's end.
Phelps finished second with a time of 1:56.66. Cody Miller, who took third place, touched the wall nearly five seconds later (2:01.63).
The result adds credence to the sentiment that the 200 IM Olympic gold medal will ultimately hang around the neck of either Phelps or Lochte in London.
The 200 IM finals take place Saturday night.
SONI SURGES TO FIRST IN WOMEN'S 200 BREASTSTROKE SEMIS
Rebecca Soni surprised many when she settled for second place behind Breeja Larson in the 100-meter breaststroke finals. The London-bound swimmer didn't leave any room for her fellow competitors on Friday night, surging to the top qualifying time in the 200 breast semifinals.
The three-time Olympic medalist and event world-record holder reminded onlookers of her dominance by setting a trial record with a 2:21.45. Soni secured first place by nearly three seconds.
Micah Lawrence finished second in 2:24.12. Needless to say, Soni enters Saturday's 200 breast final as the clear favorite to claim the first qualifying spot for the race in London.
Other finalists include Amanda Beard, who is chasing her fifth Olympics appearance and Larson, the American leader in the 100 breast final.
MEN'S 100M FREE SENDS A PAIR OF GOLD MEDALISTS BACK TO OLYMPICS
Nathan Adrian and Cullen Jenkins both returned from the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing with gold medals in their possession. Each will have an opportunity to add to their trophy case this summer in London.
Adrian and Jenkins qualified for the London Olympics on Friday night by taking first and second place, respectively, in the 100-meter freestyle final. Adrian finished with a time of 48.10, while Jones followed behind in 48.46.
Matt Grevers, who already earned a spot on the Olympic roster with a first-place finish in Thursday's 100 backstroke final, settled for third place behind Adrian and Jenkins.
ADAMS, HERSEY PUNCH THEIR TICKETS TO LONDON IN 200M FLY
Top qualifier Cammile Adams powered her way to a first-place finish in the 200-meter butterfly, winning by over a second. Adam's time of 2:06.52 was well ahead of runner-up Kathleen Hersey's 2:07.72.
Both swimmers are officially bound for the Summer Games in London after their performances in the final. Hersey earned top honors in the 200 fly at the 2011 national championships and led after 150 meters of the race before Adams overtook her in the last leg.
2008 Olympian Kim Vandenberg was left on the doorstep in third place, with a time of 2:08.99. Vandenberg earned a bronze medal in Beijing as a member of the U.S. 4x200 freestyle relay team.
LOCHTE DOMINATES 200M BACKSTROKE SEMIS
As expected, Ryan Lochte led all competitors in Friday night's 200-meter backstroke semifinals. The six-time Olympic medalist won gold in the event during the 2008 Games in Beijing and has his sights set on another run at the winner's podium.
Lochte posted a 1:55.73, the third-fastest time in the world this year, to finish first among the event's eight qualifiers. Tyler Clary, who is already headed to London after taking second place in Thursday night's 200 fly final, finished second behind Lochte with a time of 1:55.88.
Clary and Lochte appear to be head and shoulders above their fellow finals competitors based on Friday's results. Ryan Murphy, an 16-year-old who may be the future of America's backstroke swimmers, was the third-fastest finisher in the semifinals, nearly two second behind Clary.
Those three will be joined in Saturday's 200 back final by Jacob Pebley (1:58.71), Rex Tullius (1:58.79), Nick Thoman (1:58.92), David Russell (1:59.66) and Jack Conger (1:59.68).
SECOND WOMEN'S 100M FREE SEMIS PRODUCE SIX FINALISTS
An extremely impressive second heat of 100-meter freestyle semifinalists produced six of the eight competitors for Saturday's event final. That group includes 11-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin, who clocked the seventh fastest time of the semis with a 54.48 and holds on to her hopes for a trip to London.
Amanda Weir finished in 54.14, second only to Allison Schmitt, and 17-year-old sensation Missy Franklin qualified for the final with a 54.19. The 100 free final will also include Jessica Hardy (54.27), Dana Vollmer (54.43) and Madison Kennedy (54.45).
Aside from Schmitt, Lia Neal is the only competitor from the first 100 free semifinal heat to qualify for Saturday's race.
ALLISON SCHMITT ADVANCES TO 100M FREESTYLE FINAL
Schmitt, who already qualified for her second Olympics appearance with a first-place finish in the 400-meter freestyle, is headed to the 100 free final. The 22-year-old took first in her semifinal heat with a time of 54.23, ahead of Lia Neal and Megan Romano.
Schmitt earned a bronze medal at the 2008 Games in Beijing and is seeking to compete for multiple medals in London. She can qualify for the 100 free in Saturday evening's event final.
200M BREASTSTROKE FINALS UNVEIL TWO NEW OLYMPIANS
Though the spotlight initially fell upon 100-meter breaststroke Olympic qualifiers Brendan Hansen and Eric Shanteau, the 200 breast final belonged to a pair of newcomers.
Scott Weltz and Clark Burckle took first and second place, respectively, to earn their place on Team USA. It's the first time that either swimmer has qualified for a Summer Olympics appearance.
Hansen led after the first 50 meters but faded to fourth place through 150 meters, when Shanteau took the lead. However, neither swimmer could hold off Weltz or Burckle in the final charge.
Weltz finished in 2:09.01, making him the third-fastest American in the history of the event. The relatively unknown UC Davis graduate finished 37th overall in the 2008 U.S. Olympic 200 breast trials.
Burckle followed with a time of 2:09.09 and is also headed to London. The Louisville native is the younger brother of Caroline Burckle, a bronze medalist at the 2008 Games in Beijing.
BEARD KEEPS OLYMPIC DREAM ALIVE
Accomplished American swimmer Amanda Beard continues her quest for a fifth Summer Olympics appearance Friday in the 200-meter breaststroke semifinals. The thirty-year-old qualified for the event by placing fifth in preliminaries.
Beard, who first represented Team USA as a 14-year-old phenom at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, is a former world-record holder in the event. You better believe the seven-time Olympic medalist and national women's swimming icon will have the crowd's support Friday night in Omaha as she aims to advance into Saturday's 200 breast final.
LOCHTE VS PHELPS: ROUND THREE IS OFFICIALLY SET
The rivalry continues Friday night in Omaha, as both Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte qualified for the 200 individual medley with expected quality preliminary performances earlier today. Lochte, who endured a busy Friday morning in the pool, earned a spot in the semifinals for both 200 IM and 200 backstroke.
He will take place in both events Friday evening, highlighted by another matchup with Phelps in the 200 IM, where he is the reigning world champion. Before that race, Lochte is scheduled to compete in the 200 back semifinal, which he views as quite a daunting task.
“The 200 back is probably one of the hardest events known to swimming,” Lochte told the Associated Press. “It just takes all your legs out of you. Being able to come up and step up on the blocks and race like Michael Phelps, it’s definitely a challenge, but I’m up for it.”
It will be interesting to see if he can fully recover from his backstroke race and regain his strength when he returns to the pool shortly after for the 200 IM semis. Lochte's endurance will be tested.
Tyler Clary, who qualified for the Olympics last night with a second-place finish in the 200 fly, could be Lochte's main competition in the 200 back. He posted the second-fasted time in preliminaries.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: FRIDAY, JUNE 29
All the devilishly early pool times and demonic dry-land workouts were meant to prepare Ryan Lochte for this: his personal day of swimming hell.
Lochte will swim preliminary and semifinal heats in two of his strongest events, the 200-meter individual medley and the 200 back. It's a daunting double—even when accounting for Lochte's legendary fitness—and it'll take a careful bit of strategy from the former Florida Gator if he's to keep his legs for the event finals on Saturday.
His rival, Michael Phelps, will have a much easier go of things. Having scratched the 100 free earlier this week and the 200 back yesterday, Phelps need only worry about advancing through the preliminary and semifinal rounds of the 200 IM.
Omaha will also host three event finals on Friday: the men's 200 breaststroke, women's 200 fly and men's 100 free.
In the men's 200 breaststroke, feel-good headliners Brendan Hansen and Eric Shanteau will each be after their second Olympic qualification. Hansen, a once-retired veteran of two Olympiads, and Shanteau, a cancer survivor, qualified for London in the 100 breaststroke and are favored to do the same at 200 meters.
Top-seeded qualifier Cammile Adams headlines the women's 200 fly final. America hasn't medaled in the event at a major international competition since 2007 and hasn't won gold since Misty Hyman shocked Susie O'Neill at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Friday's final two Olympic spots will be doled out in the men's 100 free. Always among the marquee events at U.S. Trials, this year's version features past Olympic heroes Jason Lezak, Cullen Jones and Garret Weber-Gale, as well as fellow Beijing medalists Nathan Adrian and Ricky Berens.
Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Matt Grevers all scratched the event—Phelps before the preliminary and the other two after qualifying for the final.
CAITLIN LEVERENZ, ARIANA KUKORS QUALIFY IN 200 IM
Ariana Kukors, the 2009 world champion and 2011 world bronze medalist in the 200-meter IM, is headed to her first Olympic Games.
But it sure wasn't easy.
Kukors, 23, needed every last stroke to hold off 18-year-old Elizabeth Pelton for second place in the women's 200 IM final and a trip to London.
The win went to Caitlin Leverenz, who earlier in the week made her first Olympic team with a second-place finish in the 400 IM.
And while it's been an impressive week for Leverenz, her victory doesn't bode well for Team USA's medal hopes in London. Leverenz's winning time was more than four seconds slower than the world record set by Kukors in 2009.
That pace isn't likely to strike much fear in an international field fronted by Chinese teen phenom, and defending world champion, Ye Shiwen.
MICHAEL PHELPS CRUISES TO 200 FLY VICTORY
Michael Phelps made easy work of his competition in the men's 200-meter butterfly final, swimming a season-leading 1:53.65 and qualifying for his third individual Olympic event.
The race was not, however, without drama.
Tyler Clary and Bobby Bollier staged a thrilling battle for second place, with Clary pulling ahead in the final five meters.
The win represents a major breakthrough for Clary, a world-class IM-er whose repeated attempts to qualify for the Olympics have been thwarted by the ongoing co-dominance of Phelps and Ryan Lochte at both IM distances.
Clary thought he'd get a chance to qualify in the 400 IM this time around, but Phelps' surprise return to the event right before trials quashed those hopes.
So he did it the hard way, holding off Bollier and Davis Tarwater to earn a long-awaited, and much-deserved, Olympic bid.
Upon finally seeing his name in that second position, Clary pounded the water in jubilation. The long wait was over.
For Phelps, the outcome confirmed his status as the event favorite entering London. As if there were any doubt.
Phelps first raced the 200 fly as a 15-year-old in Sydney, finishing fifth. Since then he's dominated the distance, winning each of the last two Olympic titles.
Were Phelps to win gold in the 200 fly this summer, he would become the first male swimmer to win the same event at three consecutive Olympiads.
In her post-race interview, NBC's Andrea Kremer asked Phelps to reflect on his long history in the 200 fly, eliciting a pensive answer from the normally nonplussed champion.
"I was thinking about this earlier," Phelps said, adding a moment's pause for dramatics. "This will be my fourth Olympic in this race. It's been a pretty special race for me."
After which he quickly snapped back into form, finishing the response with a one-off cliche about how he'll have to do better in London to win gold.
ALLISON SCHMITT DUSTS FIELD IN 200 FREE FINAL
Though it was only for a moment, Allison Schmitt did on Thursday what few women have done over the past year: She upstaged Missy Franklin.
Even as the 17-year-old media favorite clinched her second Olympic bid with a runner-up finish in the women's 200-meter freestyle final, it was Schmitt who stole the show, cruising to an early advantage and finishing with a new American record.
The 1:54.40 Schmitt posted was just the latest in a string of remarkable times for the Pittsburgh native who suddenly looks like a major player in London.
Earlier this week, Schmitt qualified for the 400 free and could add a third individual event in Saturday's 100 free final.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: THURSDAY, JUNE 28
For those growing tired of Omaha's omnipresent rivalry, good news: Michael Phelps will not swim against Ryan Lochte on the fourth day of trials.
Each will, however, compete—Lochte in a 100-meter freestyle preliminary heat and Phelps in the finals of the 200 fly.
Phelps is a prohibitive favorite to qualify in the latter, having won the past two Olympic titles and past three World Championships at that distance.
Elsewhere, another one of Bob Bowman's most prominent disciples looks to clinch her second Olympic bid. Allison Schmitt, the suddenly rejuvenated freestyle specialist who has been running roughshod over opponents this year, will try to extend her recent run of dominance with a victory in the women's 200 free final.
Schmitt set a trials record in the event semifinal yesterday and seems a safe bet to hold off media darling Missy Franklin, streaking veteran Dana Vollmer and surprise contender Shannon Vreeland.
Thursday culminates with the finals of the women's 200 IM.
Ariana Kukors, bronze medalist at the most recent World Championships, is your betting favorite, but don't start counting chickens. Kukors will get a stiff challenge from 400 IM qualifiers Elizabeth Beisel and Caitlin Leverenz, as well as teenage upstart Elizabeth Pelton.
PHELPS QUALIFIES FOR 200M FLY FINAL
It wasn't a dominant performance, but it got the job done.
Michael Phelps placed third in the 200-meter butterfly, which has historically been his bread-and-butter event over the past decade. Phelps (1:56.42) trailed Bobby Bollier (1:56.06) and Davis Tarwater (1:56.10) for most of the race, and they finished first and second, respectively.
It appeared Phelps dialed his adrenaline back just a bit, which was undoubtedly part of his game plan at this stage of the U.S. swimming trials. Less than an hour earlier, he cleared his biggest obstacle of the day by defeating Ryan Lochte in the 200 freestyle final.
At this point for Phelps, it's all about reaching the final. The fact that he can seemingly coast on the way there is rather remarkable in its own right.
LARSON, SONI QUALIFY FOR LONDON IN 100M BREASTSTROKE
Texas A&M Breeja Larson continued an unbelievable year by winning the 100-meter breaststroke final. She established an American record in the 100-yard breaststroke during NCAA competition as a sophomore, and now she is headed to London after clocking a 1:05.92.
It's Larson's first Olympic appearance. Her victory was a mild upset.
Larson will join favorite Rebecca Soni on the U.S. women's swimming team at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Many expected Soni to win the event on Wednesday evening. The two-time 100M breaststroke world champion (2009 and 2011) took second place with a time of 1:05.99.
Two-time 50M breaststroke champion Jessica Hardy settled for third place. Hardy will have a chance to qualify for the Olympics in both the 50 and 100 freestyle events, which are still to come in Omaha.
U.S. MEN'S 100M BACKSTROKE SET FOR OLYMPICS
Matt Grevers, who secured a silver medal in the 100-meter backstroke at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, has punched his return ticket to the Summer Games. The 27-year-old placed first overall in the 100 backstroke final, with a scintillating time of 52.08.
"It was the perfect race," Grevers told NBC's Andrea Kremer while catching his breath moments after the win. "I owe it all to the coaches. Perfect training."
Nick Thoman earned the second Olympic qualification with a 52.86. The Cincinnati native is headed to London for his first Olympic foray.
Both swimmers give the U.S. men's swimming team an excellent chance to earn multiple medals in the event.
MISSY FRANKLIN OFFICIALLY HEADED TO LONDON
After all the anticipation, 17-year-old sensation Missy Franklin has matched the hype. She surged to a first-place finish in the women's 100 backstroke final, setting an American record with a time of 58.85.
Franklin ferociously powered through the final stretch of the race to secure her spot in London. Former event record-holder Natalie Coughlin failed to earn automatic Olympic qualification.
The 11-time Olympic medalist finished the final in third place at 1:00.06, behind Rachel Bootsma (59.49). Bootsma, 18, is also headed to London.
It's a changing of the guard in the 100 backstroke, an event that Coughlin has long dominated. Now two teenagers will represent Team USA in the race at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
PHELPS WINS 200 FREE FINAL
Michael Phelps has finally edged Ryan Lochte. After settling for second-place in their first two matchups, the 16-time Olympic medalist earned first place in the 200 freestyle final.
Phelps' right hand reached the wall in 1:45.70, five one-hundredths of a second before Lochte, who was runner-up. Both swimmers qualified to compete in the event during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.
It's a bit of a statement for Phelps, who surged out to a slight lead in the first 100 meters.
"You can always count on Ryan and I having a good neck-and-neck race," Phelps told NBC's Andrea Kremer immediately after his victory.
That's an understatement at this point. The two elite competitors seem to be battling at practically even strength.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: WEDNESDAY, JUNE 27
Welcome to midweek in Omaha and a day of time trials, preliminary heats and—most importantly—a slew of finals. From the women's 100-meter backstroke and 100 breast to the men's 200 free and 100 back, tonight's evening schedule vows to bring with it a bevy of excitement.
Early in the day, Katie Hoff—who recently announced she will not swim the 400 individual medley—stands a chance to redeem herself in the 200 freestyle after failing to qualify for a shot in the finals in the women's 400 free.
According to coach Paul Yetter, Hoff has been suffering from a "stomach bug," so it will be interesting to see if the the affliction plays a significant role in Hoff's performance Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Michael Phelps will be in action early—preliminary heat action, that is—seeded first in the men's 200 butterfly and swimming in heat No. 14.
At night—and this is where it gets good—it's Phelps vs. Lochte part three. Lochte owns a two-race lead over Phelps in their head-to-head swims, so while Phelps won't be catching up here, he'll have a chance to wipe that goose egg off the scoreboard.
Finally, 17-year-old top qualifier Missy Franklin will swim the women's 100 backstroke, where she will join Natalie Coughlin, who is scheduled for a full day of preparation—as in no earlier races—before the final: "Having the morning off to rest and recover and go into that 100 back as fresh as possible will be really important to me."
Meanwhile, don't forget about that men's 100 backstroke. Matt Grevers will hope to qualify—and likely will win outright—in what should be a great preview of what to expect in London.
QUICK WRAP: TUESDAY, JUNE 26
Score another one in favor of Ryan Lochte. Although it wasn't the most important race of the evening, Lochte's first-place finish in the 200-meter freestyle semifinal fueled the fire of a growing rivalry between him and Michael Phelps. Lochte finished in 1:46.25, while Phelps followed at 1:47.27. The two will meet again in the event final on Wednesday evening.
The men's 100 breaststroke final featured a pair of comeback stories. Two-time Olympian Brendan Hansen nearly left swimming for good until he returned to the pool in 2011. He qualified for his third consecutive Olympics with a first-place finish (59.68). Eric Shanteau surged to second place and will join Hansen in London.
Shanteau overcame a cancer diagnosis four years ago, so his qualification provides a captivating story for Team USA.
One night after breaking an American record in the women's 100 butterfly semifinals, Dana Vollmer starred again and earned first place in the final. She finished with a time of 56.50, ahead of new Olympic teammate Claire Donahue.
In the women's 400 freestyle, Allison Schmitt built a commanding early lead and held on to punch her ticket for London. Chloe Sutton secured second place and rounds out Tuesday night's Olympic qualifiers.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: TUESDAY, JUNE 26
As if Lochte-Phelps wasn't exciting enough on Monday, America will be greeted by Round 2 of their intrasquad rivalry in the 200-meter freestyle. The morning's preliminary races and evening's semifinals will offer more fodder for debate over who is better.
Tueday will also bring us several key finals—the women's 100-meter fly and 400 free and the men's 100 breast.
Dana Vollmer will be eyeing a world record in the butterfly, along with the top spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Veteran Olympian Natalie Coughlin will rival Vollmer for the top spot, though the key is a top-two finish in order to make the event for London.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old Katie Hoff recently declared she has dropped the 400 individual medley to concentrate on the 200- and 400-meter freestyle events. Expect Hoff, a three-time medal winner at Beijing, to contend for a 400 free spot.
As for the men's 100 breaststroke, Brendan Hansen is vying to win the event for the third consecutive U.S. trials, cementing his way to a third straight Olympic Games. Hansen already put up the world's fourth fastest time Monday night, giving competitors Scott Weltz, Mark Gangloff and Eric Shanteau a tough task in competing for the second spot.
QUICK WRAP: MONDAY, JUNE 25
Ryan Lochte: 1
Michael Phelps: 0
In the first chapter of what has become Omaha's predominant storyline, Ryan Lochte swam a season-leading 4:07.06 to beat Michael Phelps in the men's 400-meter individual medley final. Phelps finished second in 4:07.89, meaning both swimmers qualify for London.
Neither man seemed to test his physical limits, the relatively wide margin between the two indicative of a race where both swimmers seemed content to qualify.
There was some speculation that Phelps had simply entered this race to gauge his fitness and wouldn't ultimately contest it in London. Phelps quashed that notion in his post-race interview, telling NBC's Andrea Kremer he would indeed swim the 400 IM in London.
Looks like Phelps wants another shot at his rival.
With his second-place finish in the IM, Phelps becomes the first American male swimmer to make four U.S. Olympic teams.
The two other event finals went largely according to script. In the women's 400 IM, defending world champ Elizabeth Beisel bolted to an early lead and an easy victory. Caitlin Leverernz took second, earning her first Olympic trip in the process. Favorite Peter Vanderkaay won a slow-paced men's 400 free final, with Conor Dwyer taking second.
Dana Vollmer sent shock waves across CenturyLink Center with a near-world-record swim in her 100 fly qualifying heat. Vollmer, a 2004 gold medalist in the 4x200 freestyle relay, failed to qualify for the 2008 team, but seems to have put those woes behind her. She was brilliant in winning the 100 fly at 2011 Worlds and shows no signs of slowing.