Nebraska: Michael Phelps took another step toward a last Olympic hurrah on Tuesday as 2012 gold medalists Missy Franklin and Matt Grevers failed to qualify at the US swimming trials for the Rio Games.
Franklin and Grevers were just the latest big names to fall in Omaha, where Ryan Lochte had already failed to qualify to defend his 400m individual medley crown.
Franklin, whose four gold medals in London included the 100m and 200m backstroke, could manage only seventh place in the 100m back won by Olivia Smoliga in 59.02sec.
Kathleen Baker finished second in 59.29 to put herself on the road to Rio.
The only swimmer to finish behind Franklin was 33-year-old Natalie Coughlin, who won gold in the event in the 2004 and 2008 Games.
"Oh my gosh, it was a star-studded field," Smoliga said. "To have all those girls in there, and I know every single one of them, so it`s so comforting to have them in the ready room."
"You know they`re going to put up such a great race, such a great fight, and it was a fight," she added. "I`m just so happy with the outcome."
Franklin faced an uphill battle after posting the seventh-fastest semi-final time, and the 21-year-old couldn`t produce a miracle from lane one.
Her time of 1:00.24 left her 1.22sec off the pace.
Less than half an hour earlier, she eased into the final of the 200m freestyle with the fourth-fastest time in the semi-finals, which were led by the indomitable Katie Ledecky.
"I am feeling more pressure than I ever have before," Franklin admitted. "Right now, I need to make the team in whatever way that looks like."
Grevers, the men`s 100m back gold medalist in 2012, came up just short in that event, finishing third in a scintillating final won by Ryan Murphy in 52.26sec.
David Plummer grabbed the second Rio berth in 52.28sec, with Grevers out in the cold in 52.76.
"My heart breaks for Matt," Murphy said. "He`s been dominant in that event for so long."
But the 20-year-old who won relay gold at last year`s world championships has high hopes of keeping the 100m back title in US hands.
"Hopefully, we have a good shot of going one-two," he said.
Townley Haas, 19, won the men`s 200m free final in 1:45.66, just one one-hundredth of a second ahead of Conor Dwyer.Lochte, the 11-time Olympic medalist battling a groin injury that has threatened his Rio bid, is at least assured of travelling to the Games as part of the relay pool thanks to a fourth-place finish -- 96-hundredths of a second behind the winner.
"I`m just happy that I`m going to Rio," he said.
Lochte still has the 200m backstroke, 200m medley and 100m free to come, but, ominously, described the pain from his injury as "seven or eight" on a scale of one to 10.
"I can`t really think about that," he said. "I made the Olympic team, I`m going to Rio."
Lilly King booked her first Olympic berth in style, winning the 100m breaststroke in 1:05.20, the world`s fastest time this year.
Katie Meili stuck with her to finish second in 1:06.07, which put her inside the top five in the world this year.
Of the eight swimmers to punch their tickets in individual events on Wednesday, only Dwyer has competed in the Games before.
The bevy of new Olympians produced in the first three days of racing caught the eye of Phelps, who is trying to become the first US man to make a fifth Olympic swimming team.
"I don`t even know half of them," said the 18-time gold medalist who topped the 200m butterfly semi-final times in 1:55.17 and can clinch is Rio berth in Wednesday`s final.
"It`s good for our sport," he added.
"It`s exciting to have new faces of people who are really pumped to come up into the sport. That`s a good thing to see as I`m on my way out."