OMAHA —Michael Phelps made his fourth Olympic team in the 200-meter butterfly Thursday, and he enjoyed it, for sure. There were grins and laughs as he chatted with reporters, even a bit of reminiscing.
But the happiest guy in the pool, maybe on the planet at just after 8 p.m., was Tyler Clary, who clinched the lone other Olympic team berth in the event three days after just missing in his first final with a third-place finish. As Phelps cherished the expected with his victory in 1 minute 53.65 seconds, Clary reveled in a surprising second place with his finish in 1:55.12
The way Clary described it, making your first Olympic team seems far more thrilling than your fourth.
“It can’t even put into words how the end of that race felt,” Clary said. “It’s like the biggest endorphin rush you’ve ever experienced. The biggest explosion of serotonin in your head. I’m on cloud nine right now.”
Thursday at the U.S. Olympic team trials in swimming proved to be the sort of night in which order of placement did not always correspond to the magnitude of joy and relief. Ariana Kukors holds the world record in the 200 individual medley, but her hopes of making the Olympic team seemed to be slipping away halfway through the final of that event, when she found herself in fourth place. But Kukors recovered to clinch the second Olympic berth in 2:11.30 after Caitlin Leverenz finished first in 2:10.22.
Kukors met reporters with tears streaking her face.
“I’m just happy and blessed and thanks to my family for keeping me sane,” Kukors said. “A lot of people say this is the most nerve-racking meet in the world . . . You try to separate yourself from the nerves, but it’s all around you. It’s a stressful meet, and I fell victim to it.”
Allison Schmitt dominated the 200 freestyle as expected, given her strong performance in the semifinals and in the 400 freestyle here, but it was Missy Franklin, 17, who emerged from a tight, competitive fight for second place with her second Olympic team berth so far this week. Schmitt lowered her American record with her finish in 1:54.40; Franklin touched home in 1:56.79.
“Emotionally, this meet is unbelievable,” Franklin said. “It took me forever to fall asleep last night. To be able to have a second event now and be on the [4×200] relay, it’s going to be so much fun and I’m so excited.”
Jason Lezak, the veteran sprint freestyler best known for his record-setting anchor leg of the 4×100 relay team in Beijing, did not make the top eight for the 100 freestyle final Friday night, at first, but . . . all of the sudden, he did. And he, too, looked far more pleased than is customary for a ninth-place finisher in the event’s semifinals. Ryan Lochte had qualified for the final with a fifth-best time, but decided to scratch from the race — opening the slot for Lezak — because he preferred to concentrate on the 200 individual medley and 200 backstroke Friday.
Lezak, 36, a seven-time Olympic medal winner who will be scraping for a spot on the 4×100 relay, rushed to Lochte even before the two had gotten out of the water.
“We were climbing out and he’s like, ‘Are you a scratch?’ ” Lochte said, grinning.
“I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Thank you.’ ”
Matt Grevers also scratched later, pitching Dave Walters into the final from 10th place.
Lochte said he competed in the preliminary round and finals to put up a good 100 time, as he hopes to be considered for the 4×100 relay team in London. His finish in 48.91 tied for fifth; Nathan Adrian led all qualifiers with his finish in 48.33.
Phelps has now made the Olympic team in three events, the 400 individual medley, the 200 freestyle and the 200 fly. On Friday, he will compete in the 200 individual medley against Lochte, and Saturday brings one of his favorites, the 100 fly.
For those counting at home, that’s five individual events. He will surely be placed on three relays in London if he makes the team in his remaining events. That means he is closing on a shot to do what he never even suggested he would do leading up to these Olympic trials: chase eight gold medals once again.
“The next couple of days are probably going to be fun races for you guys to watch,” Phelps said.
Phelps declared Thursday his best day of the meet thus far. He said he felt fresh and rested, and his stroke felt smooth.
“Going into the last wall, I didn’t want to have any close ones,” Phelps said. “So I tried to stay under as long as I could, and today was the best my stroke has felt throughout the whole meet . . . My strokes kind of felt like my old strokes.”
Clary’s strokes felt, perhaps, like they were divinely aided. At the race’s halfway point, he felt like he was falling from third place to fourth.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m not even making the top three,” he said. “Once I started putting my head down, I started gaining and gaining on people . . . I looked up [at the end] and it was just the biggest feeling of excitement.”