Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps cruise into 200m medley final at Trials

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OMAHA, Neb. — Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte did their part.

The longtime rivals are headed to another showdown at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.

Phelps and Lochte cruised through the semifinals of the 200-meter individual medley Thursday night, each of them winning their heats in dominating fashion.

Nathan Adrian, meanwhile, wasn’t dominant, but he’ll defend his 100m freestyle gold in Rio. Unfortunately, Missy Franklin missed her chance to compete in another 100m free at the Olympics.

Lochte is on the verge of his first individual Rio berth. The 11-time Olympic medalist so far has only qualified in the 4x100m relay.

“It means a lot,” Lochte said. “I’ve been racing him in this event since like 2003. He’s a tough competitor. I just love racing against him because it’s a challenge.”

Slowed by a groin injury, the 31-year-old Lochte missed out in the 400 IM — a race he won at the Olympics four years ago — finished fourth in the 200 freestyle, and dropped out of the 200 backstroke.

Though also entered in the 100 butterfly, Lochte is basically putting all his hopes on the 200 IM. A top-two finish will give him that cherished spot, but he really wants a win over Phelps in Friday night’s final before they head to the Olympics.

SWIM TRIALS: Video | Results | Broadcast Schedule

“I’m feeling better as far as like mentally, but physically I’m getting tired,” Lochte said. “Tomorrow night will definitely be a good battle between me and Michael.”

Lochte was the top qualifier at 1 minute, 56.71 seconds, while Phelps took the second spot in 1:57.61. That means they’ll be right beside each other in the final, just as they’ve been so many times during their dazzling careers.

Phelps has already qualified for Rio in the 200 fly, but the most decorated athlete in Olympic history is eager to add two more individual races to his program. He’ll be a big favorite in the 100 fly, a race in which Lochte doesn’t figure to be a major threat.

This is their only real chance to race.

“Him and I have gone back and forth a number of times in this race,” Phelps said. “During the big meets, we have great races. We’re right there with each other tomorrow in the middle of the pool, probably a couple of tenths apart. We’re going to be out and probably step on the gas a little bit more than we have in the past and you’ll have an exciting race.”

Phelps will also likely be a part of all three relays Rio.

Oh, and he celebrated his 31st birthday on Thursday.

“I have a bunch of friends here and my mom rented out a room, so we’re all going to get together and have some food,” Phelps said.

Then he’ll turn his attention to a familiar foe.

Elsewhere on the fifth night of the meet, Josh Prenot became the latest Olympic rookie to make the team, knocking off Kevin Cordes in the 200 breaststroke. Cordes had already won the 100 breast and was more than a second under world-record pace at the final turn of the longer race.

But Prenot, furiously bouncing up and down in the water, surged past Cordes on the final lap to win in 2 minutes, 7.17 seconds, setting an American record and finishing just off the world mark of 2:07.01 held since 2012 by Japan’s Akhiro Yamaguchi.

Also Thursday, Cammile Adams won the 200 butterfly after being briefly disqualified one day earlier during the preliminaries. The ruling that she made an illegal turn was quickly overturned after a review provided by the underwater camera, and Adams took advantage of her second chance to win with a time of 2:06.80. Hali Flickinger took the second Olympic spot in 2:07.50.

MORE: Missy Franklin misses qualifying in 100m freestyle

Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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