INDIANAPOLIS — As Michael Phelps stood poolside doing a television interview moments after claiming the gold medal in the 200-meter individual medley final at the Indianapolis Grand Prix on Saturday night, Ryan Lochte emerged slowly and grimly from the water, his chest heaving and cheeks red.
Phelps, the reigning Olympic champion in the event, dominated to earn a victory in 1 minute 56.32 seconds, claiming his third gold medal and fourth overall of this three-day meet. Lochte, who broke Phelps’s world record in the event last summer, settled for his second bronze of the night — and only his second medal in six events at this meet. He finished in 1:59.37.
As Phelps thrived at this tune-up meet for the July U.S. Olympic trials, showcasing some of his old speed even without taking a break from hard training, Lochte, the most dominant swimmer in the world last year, seemed largely quiet and out of sight.
He didn’t even qualify for the A finals in the 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly Thursday. He did not get within stepping distance of the top of a medal stand. He swam out of Lane 1 in the 200 medley final.
Yet he showed not a hint of concern after Saturday’s races. As is customary for Lochte at this time of year, he is in the midst of brutally hard training. He has refused to wear the jammer suits that offer at least a slight speed edge; instead, he wore colorful briefs for all of his races here. And he took on a challenging double Saturday night: Just 30 minutes before the individual medley final, he placed third in the 100 backstroke final.
“I’m seeing spots right now,” Lochte said shortly after the second race.
Phelps, though happy with his times and medal haul here, said he wouldn’t think of reading anything into Lochte’s invisibility.
“He’s there when it counts,” Phelps said. “I know that. . . . As long as you’re there at the right time, that’s all that matters. He always is.”
Phelps couldn’t get excited about beating Lochte, but he drew encouragement from his own performances. He finished second to Nathan Adrian in the 100 free, won the 100 fly, then won the 400 individual medley in his fastest in-season time ever. Saturday offered another reason for optimism: He said his time in the 200 medley was a half-second faster than last year at this time.
“I’m probably like, on a scale of one to 10, maybe like a 71/2 to 8,” he said. “I’m heading in the right direction.”
Lochte’s training team in Gainesville, Fla., under Coach Gregg Troy just completed its hardest segment of training of the season, with six lighter weeks ahead. The routine has been the same for Lochte since the 2008 Summer Games, and though it looks ugly at meet like this, it’s worked pretty well.
Last year, Lochte beat Phelps twice in head-to-head races at the August world championships in Shanghai and broke Phelps’s world record in the 200 medley. The year before, he dominated at the Pan Pacific Championships in Irvine, Calif., as Phelps struggled.
In the men’s 100 backstroke Saturday, Lochte tied for third in 54.75 as Nick Thoman won the gold in 53.95.
“The times are irrelevant to me,” Lochte said. “I just know all of that hard work that I’ve been doing . . . is going to pay off.”
It’s difficult to draw conclusions about anyone from the times or performances at mid-season meets such as this. Great Falls’s Kate Ziegler and Towson’s Katie Hoff, who won five gold medals between them at the 2007 world championships, used this grand prix as their first test under their new, old coaches. Both returned to the coaches of their youth this year, leaving the Fullerton, Calif., post-graduate training center each joined after the 2008 Summer Games.
Ziegler returned to Virginia in late March to train under Ray Benecki of the FISH; Hoff moved to Naples, Fla., in January to rejoin Paul Yetter, her former coach at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club who now leads a training group on Florida’s west coast.
“I felt like I needed to be in a place I felt 100 percent confident,” Hoff said. “Paul’s training always suited me as far as giving me that confidence.”
Hoff finished second in the 400 free, fourth in the 200 free, 10th in the 100 free, sixth in Saturday’s 200 individual medley final (2:14.99) and 13th in the 200 fly (2:18.07). Ziegler was sixth in the 400 free, 22nd in the 200 free and second in Saturday’s 800 final (8:33.86). Both say they are adjusting to their new training regimens.
“I felt my training wasn’t where I wanted it to be,” Ziegler said. “Ray and I left on great terms and we stayed on great terms. . . . And the best thing is just being back with my family.”