Irvine: Ryan Lochte held off Aaron Peirsol in a star-studded 200m backstroke at the US swimming championships Saturday as Michael Phelps was relegated to fourth.
In a race that featured five of the six-fastest performers ever in the event, 2008 Olympic champion Lochte led from start to finish to win in 1min 55.58sec.
Peirsol, who set the world record in winning the world title in Rome last year, was second in 1:56.28 and Tyler Clary was third in 1:56.36.
“I just went out as fast as I could and then held on for dear life,” Lochte said. “I could see everyone just starting to catch me in the last 50, and I was like, ‘Great, this is going to be ugly.”‘
“He swam a great race,” said Peirsol. “He called our bluff.”
Lochte claimed his third victory of the meet after winning the 400m individual medley and notching a 200m medley win that marked his first triumph over Phelps in the event at a major championship.
Phelps, owner of 14 Olympic gold medals, said he was just happy to have a chance to put his backstroke to the test against the likes of Lochte and Peirsol.
Although he came out of the pool saying “I don’t want to do that event ever again” Phelps said he was, in fact, satisfied with his time of 1:56.98.
“I did what I wanted to do,” said Phelps, adding he had targeted a time “under 1:57.”
Phelps again noted that he was paying the price for time off training. Despite his disappointment with his times he won the 200m free and both the 100m and 200m butterfly here.
“I didn’t expect to leave happy,” Phelps said of his patchy preparation. “I’m someone who always wants it to be perfect... I was setting myself up to not be perfect this week.”
Lochte said he has encountered some hiccups in his training, but was happy with a meet in which he also finished runner-up in the 100m and 200m freestyle.
The meet determined the US team for the Pan Pacific Championships, which start in the same pool on August 18. Times from the two meets will determine the US team for the 2011 World Championships.
Lochte said he expected to swim faster at Pan Pacs, where the charter nations of the United States, Australia, Japan and Canada will battle, along with a scattering of swimmers from other nations.
“In two more weeks I’m going to be a lot faster,” Lochte said.
Amanda Beard, who gave birth to son Blaise 11 months ago, seemed stunned to find herself eligible for Pan Pacs after finishing second to Rebecca Soni in the 200m breaststroke.
Soni cruised home in 2:21.60, while Beard, a former world record holder and Olympic champion, was second almost five seconds adrift in 2:26.50.
“I’m emotional because I didn’t expect to have to make any decision this week,” said Beard, who wept as she held the baby in her arms.
“I’ve neer been away from him for more than three hours at a time,” she added, but with the encouragement of her husband she decided she would take the plunge and compete at Pan Pacs.
Jessica Hardy also secured her spot on the team with a runner-up finish - behind Dana Vollmer in the 100m freestyle.
Vollmer had already qualified for Pan Pacs but was delighted to get a win in 53.94 after runner-up finishes in the 200m free and 100m fly.
Hardy, swimming in her biggest meeting since serving a one-year doping ban that ended last August, had disappointing finishes on Thursday in the 100m breaststroke and 50m free.
“I’m relieved it went well,” said Hardy, who notched a personal best 54.14.
Eric Shanteau won the 200m breaststroke in 2:10.09, with Scott Spann second in 2:12.26.
Chloe Sutton, already qualified for the Pan Pacs open water competition, booked her berth in the pool with a victory in the 800m freestyle in a personal best time of 8:24.77.
Chad La Tourette won the 1,500m free in 14:55.39, with Peter Vanderkaay second in 15:03.86.
The men’s 50m free results were finally made official as Josh Schneider, who touched level second with Cullen Jones in the final on Thursday, agreed to waive his second-place finish.
He had swum the final as he appealed the ruling that he was ineligible because he failed to show up for an earlier race without officially scratching.