Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte go 1-2 in last showdown before Rio Olympics

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Matching each other stroke for stroke, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte surged to the wall in almost perfect sync.

Phelps got there first, just ahead of the guy who’s pushed him hard for more than a decade.

It was like so many races they’ve had before.

There’s one more to go in Rio.

In the latest epic of their longtime rivalry — and billed as the last showdown in their home country — Phelps edged Lochte in the 200-meter individual medley at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials Friday night.

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“Ryan and I always have a great race with one another,” said Phelps, who plans to retire again after his fifth Olympics. “When we race each other, we bring each other to a different level.”

Phelps led from start to finish, but Lochte was right with him all the way. In fact, he seemed to pull even midway through the final lap, but the most decorated athlete in Olympic history managed to get to the wall in 1 minute, 55.91 seconds.

Lochte was next at 1:56.22 and had no complaints about the consolation prize: his only individual race at the Olympics.

“I knew going into this race it was definitely going to be a dogfight to the end,” Lochte said. “It’s been a long journey, but the journey’s not over. We still have another month to get ready and show the world that the U.S. is number one.”

Lochte, an 11-time medalist, injured his groin on the very first day of the meet, struggled in his next few races and was down to his final chance to get a swim of his own at the Summer Games.

Now, that’s out of the way, which means Phelps and Lochte will get another crack at each other in South America.

As a three-time defending gold medalist in the 200 IM, Phelps will be the favorite.

But he knows Lochte won’t be far behind, especially with a month to get over the groin issue.

“I don’t know of another person in this world who brings out the best in me like he does,” said Phelps, who has 18 golds and 22 medals overall. “Neither one of us likes to lose.”

Phelps and Lochte actually had their first encounter on the way to the deck. Lochte, walking out right behind Phelps, stepped on the back of his sneaker.

“I gave him a flat tire by accident,” Lochte said. “He’s like, ‘What are you doing, trying to mess me up?’ I was like, ‘No, no, no.'”

All was forgiven when it was over, Phelps and Lochte holding up their arms together on the deck while the sellout crowd roared.

It was the end for another defending Olympic champion.

Tyler Clary finished third in the 200 backstroke and called it a career, having missed out on a chance to defend the gold he won in London. He finished behind California Aquatics teammates Ryan Murphy and Jacob Pebley, who earned the two spots for Rio.

Murphy grabbed the lead on the second lap and pulled away to win easily in 1:53.95, completing a sweep of the backstroke events.

Pebley held on for the second spot, touching in 1:54.77 to earn his first trip to the Olympics.

Clary was next at 1:55.33. He clung to a lane rope while Murphy and Pebley celebrated, before swimming over to congratulate them both.

“That’s it,” Clary said. “I couldn’t be happier to be sending Team USA off with two backstrokers that I have a lot of respect for, and I know they are going to represent Team USA well in Rio.”

There was another sweep in the women’s breaststroke, where Lilly King added a 200 victory to her earlier triumph in the 100. The 19-year-old from Indiana won in 2:24.08, while Molly Hannis claimed the second Rio spot at 2:24.39, giving the U.S. team yet another Olympic rookie.

Then again, it wasn’t totally a night for the upstarts.

Anthony Ervin and Nathan Adrian were the top two qualifiers in the semifinals of the 50 freestyle. The 35-year-old Ervin led the way in 21.55, while Adrian was second quickest in 21.60. Both men are already on the team, with Ervin still seeking an individual event to go with his relay duty and Adrian set to defend his 100 free title from the London Games.

Don’t forget Cullen Jones, a silver medalist in this event four years ago. The 32-year-old was third quickest in 21.93.

Katie Ledecky’s bid to add another relay to her Rio program took a big blow when she finished seventh in the 100 freestyle. Abbey Weitzeil (53.28) and Simone Manuel (53.52), a pair of 19-year-olds heading to their first Olympics, earned the individual spots. Olympic veterans Amanda Weir, Lia Neal, Allison Schmitt and Dana Vollmer took the next four spots to put themselves at the head of the 4×100 free relay pool.

Ledecky will likely have to settle for three individual events and one relay at these games. Her sprinting still needs a bit of work.

“I would’ve loved to have gone faster, but I’ll take it,” she said.

Phelps has locked up two individual events for Rio, having already qualified in the 200 butterfly. He returned about 30 minutes after his victory over Lochte to post the sixth-fastest time in the semifinals of the 100 fly.

That was good enough to send Phelps to the final Saturday night — his final event of the trials.

Then it’s on to Rio, where one more race with Lochte awaits.

Missy Franklin advanced to the final of the 200-meter backstroke, giving her a chance to claim a second individual event in Rio.

Franklin won her semifinal heat at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in 2 minute, 8.63 seconds. She already qualified for the Olympics in the 200 free, while missing out in three other events that she qualified for in 2012.

The only one faster than Franklin was Maya DiRado, who touched first in the other semifinal heat in 2:08.14.

DiRado already swept the 200 and 400 individual medley, and now she’s positioned to claim a third individual race at the first and only Olympics of her career. The 23-year-old has lined up a job and plans to retire after Rio.

MORE: Natalie Coughlin misses Olympic team, not retiring

Amy Cragg to withdraw from U.S. Olympic marathon trials

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Defending champion Amy Cragg will miss the Feb. 29 U.S. Olympic marathon trials with an illness, according to her social media.

“The Trials are the reason I have shown up every day for the last four years, so this has been an extremely difficult decision,” was posted on her social media. Cragg later said she had Epstein-Barr virus, according to multiple reports.

Cragg, 36, was among the favorites to grab three Olympic spots at trials in Atlanta, despite not having competed over 26.2 miles since the February 2018 Tokyo Marathon.

She withdrew from the 2018 Chicago Marathon with a hamstring injury and also scratched a month before the 2019 Chicago Marathon, citing signs pointing to needing more time after the previous year’s injury.

Cragg, fourth at the 2012 Olympic trials, relegated Des Linden and Shalane Flanagan to second and third at the 2016 trials. Linden and Flanagan went on to win the Boston and New York City Marathons, respectively, ending long U.S. women’s victory droughts.

Cragg went on to finish ninth in Rio and earn a 2017 World bronze medal, the first world championships marathon podium finish for an American woman since the first worlds in 1983.

Cragg could still make the Tokyo Olympic team in the 10,000m if she races at track trials in June. She won the 2012 Olympic trials 10,000m but hasn’t raced the distance on the track since May 2017.

“Right now my only goal is to get healthy so that I can train at the level needed to be competitive,” Cragg said in an emailed message from her agent. “That being said, the reason I am still in this sport is because of the Olympic Trials and Olympics. It is what excites me more than anything, so it is something I would still love to do.”

With Cragg absent and Flanagan retired, Linden is the only woman in next week’s field with Olympic marathon experience.

Other favorites include Olympic 10,000m runner Molly Huddle, world championships 10,000m runner Emily Sisson and Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner in history.

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Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Galen Rupp
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As Galen Rupp bids for a fourth Olympics, and perhaps become the first man or woman to win the Olympic marathon trials twice outright, he found some rare familiarity these days on the roads Feb. 8.

“Feeling like my old self again,” Rupp said Wednesday of winning a low-key half marathon in Mesa, Ariz., his first completed race in 16 months and since parting from now-banned, career-long coach Alberto Salazar. “It’s obviously been a long year and a half.”

Rupp clocked 61 minutes, 19 seconds on a downhill course. It’s faster than any half marathon by an American recorded by World Athletics since the start of 2019. Granted the downhill, but Rupp also said he was instructed by new coach Mike Smith to make it a controlled effort.

“He didn’t want me to run all-out, didn’t want me to really push and put myself in a big hole,” Rupp said, noting he was still in heavy training. “You don’t want to break that [training] up and put yourself in a deficit by having a massive effort.”

Mesa answered questions about Rupp’s readiness for the Olympic trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (NBC, 12-3 p.m. ET). Even to the two-time Olympic medalist himself. Rupp said he started the half marathon with a little bit of doubt — given recent left ankle and calf injuries — but felt early on that everything would be fine.

“It really put my mind at ease,” he said. “I’m going to be good for the marathon.”

His last two marathons did not go well.

At the 2018 Chicago Marathon, Rupp dropped from the leaders around mile 19 and finished fifth in a title defense. An Achilles injury flared up near the end. He underwent surgery later that month for two tears. Doctors said the ankle had been “a ticking time bomb.”

“They said I was really lucky to have as good of health as I had and manage it as I did,” Rupp said.

He went a full year before racing again, at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, 12 days after Salazar’s ban was announced. Even that was a rushed comeback, Rupp said after dropping out around mile 23 with a calf injury.

“I’m not going to say it was a wake-up call,” Rupp said, “but I think I was a little bit stubborn before Chicago.”

Rupp said he ran through pain in training to get to the start line four months ago. He had trouble walking for several days after the abbreviated race and focused on physical therapy for about two months. He resumed normal, pain-free training in December.

By early January, Runner’s World reported that Oregon-based Rupp found a new Flagstaff-based coach in Smith, who leads a Northern Arizona University program that won the last three NCAA men’s cross-country titles.

“The biggest thing to me was Mike’s philosophy in coaching was very similar to the program that I was under for so many years,” said Rupp, who was for more than a decade part of the Nike Oregon Project, which was shut down last fall after Salazar’s ban for doping violations (which he appealed). Rupp wasn’t implicated by USADA and has a clean drug-testing record. “What I love most about it was Mike’s honesty and how forthright he was about everything. You could tell he wasn’t just saying what I wanted to hear or say, ‘We’re just going to do whatever you’ve been doing and try and replicate that.’ You’ve got to keep evolving and trying new things.”

Smith declined an interview request through NAU until after trials. He agreed to coach Rupp after about a month of communication and hard questions, according to Runner’s World.

“Because of its timing and the headlines I was reading like everyone else at the time, this was not a road I wanted to go down,” Smith said, according to the report. “To be honest, it was just easiest to turn it down. I’m actually — as crazy as this sounds — really proud I did not.

“What I found out by getting to know Galen was that there was much more going on than the picture portrayed of him, and I wish the world knew that. I have never seen someone more all-in in my life.”

Rupp, asked his toughest moment of the last two years, said he moves forward.

“Throughout any hardships and setbacks, I felt a lot of gratitude that I had as good of a run as I did with my health and everything going well for as long as I did,” he said. “It can be easy to get angry and get down, like why me, but I do believe that things always work out. There’s a reason behind all this stuff.”

Which brings Rupp to Atlanta next week for the first time in his life, aside from airport layovers. The race is unlike any other he has contested. The course is unusually hilly. The format — Americans only, top three make the Olympic team — makes for different tactics than the World Marathon Majors that Rupp is used to.

In 2016, Rupp entered as a favorite but without any marathon experience. He won convincingly, pulling away from now-retired Meb Keflezighi by 68 seconds.

The field is deeper this year. Seven Americans broke 2:11 in 2019. Only one did in 2015. But Rupp, at his best, is in his own class.

His personal best 2:06:07, from his last healthy marathon in 2018, is 1:49 faster than the second-fastest in the trials field in this Olympic cycle (Leonard Korir). The next-fastest, Scott Fauble, is more than three minutes behind by personal bests.

“I can confidently go in and say that I’ve put in the work for this, just like I know that I put in the work in 2016,” Rupp said. “Of course, you want to go in and have good races, feeling confident and being on a roll like I was several years ago. But I think that’s why that race in Mesa was so important to show, more to myself, that hey, you’re ready to go. You can still run well. You haven’t lost everything. Surgery didn’t wipe you out.”

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