OMAHA, Neb. — Michael Phelps 2, Ryan Lochte 1.

In their most stirring duel of the U.S. Olympic trials, Phelps and Lochte went stroke for stroke in the 200-meter individual medley Saturday night, the world’s two greatest swimmers never more than inches apart.

But Phelps led at every turn, and he really turned it on at the end to edge Lochte with a time of 1 minute, 54.84 seconds – nine-hundredths ahead of the runner-up and the fastest time in the world this year.

For Phelps, it was an emphatic message on his 27th birthday that he intends to turn his last Olympics into another major medal haul. For Lochte, it was a gutsy performance coming just a half-hour after he won the grueling 200 backstroke.

“The best thing about swimming is racing and stepping up against the world’s best,” Lochte said, not looking all that tired before he returned for his third race of the night, the semifinals of the 100 butterfly.
Lochte finished third in his heat and set up one last race with Phelps today.

Phelps, the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 100 fly, advanced to the final with the fastest time of 2012, powering away to win his heat in 51.35. Lochte tied for the sixth-fastest time in the semifinals (52.47).

Lochte seemed to have Phelps’ number when he beat him twice at last year’s world championships, then kept the dominance going with a convincing win on the first night of the trials in the 400 individual medley.

But Phelps edged Lochte in the 200 freestyle, and now he’s got two wins in a row against the only swimmer who seems capable of preventing him from making another serious run at eight gold medals in London.

In other events, Jessica Hardy won the 100 freestyle. Missy Franklin, 17, moved a step closer to having a seven-event program in London, finishing second behind Hardy in 54.15.

Rebecca Soni locked up a second individual race in London, cruising to an easy win in the 200 breast stroke. Micah Lawrence is heading to the Olympics for the first time, taking second place in 2:23.03.