After dazzling the crowd during morning prelims with a come-from-behind victory, Michael Phelps received his first reminder that, while he’s been away from the competition pool, the rest of the world kept swimming.
Phelps lost in the first final of his comeback to his long-time rival Ryan Lochte. Lochte led from wall to wall in the men’s 100-meter butterfly final during the final session in Mesa, Arizona.
Lochte touched first in 51.93 seconds. The time ranks him second in the world this year.
Phelps finished second in 52.13, which ties for fifth in the world. Phelps was faster in the final than he was in winning his preliminary heat with a time of 52.84.
The two joked with each other during a post-race interview with NBC’s Rowdy Gaines.
“Down there at the turn I kind of peeked over and I saw him and almost started smiling,” Lochte said about his longtime friend and rival.
Phelps interjected, “Why? Because you were ahead?”
Gaines reminded Phelps his mother has said she wants to go to Rio for the 2016 Olympics, which would be his fifth.
“Whatever he wants,” Debbie Phelps shouted from the stands.
Phelps replied, “Good mother.”
Phelps wasn’t smiling as he walked on deck for the final, unlike in the prelims. He kept his ear buds in until he was introduced as an 18-time Olympic gold medalist. With his long hair sticking out from the back of his cap, he dived in next to Lochte, who beat him down to the first turn.
The three-day meet sold out every session the day his comeback was announced last week, with a capacity of 1,200 at Skyline Aquatic Center. A pair of $40 all-session tickets was being advertised online for $250. USA Swimming issued 100 media credentials — five times more than usual.
The possible future of American swimming with the same first name as Phelps was in the 100 fly heats. Michael Andrew, 15, qualified for the ‘C’ final in 55.23. He has broken more than 30 national age-group records and last June became the youngest U.S. male swimmer to turn pro. He was excited to meet his idol Phelps on Wednesday.
“Swimming needs you!” he tweeted after they traded handshakes. “You rock!”
Both of Phelps’ times were easily good enough to surpass the qualifying standard of 54.79 for the U.S. national championships in August. That meet will decide the team for next year’s world championships.
“One step at a time,” he said in the morning.
The opening night in Arizona wasn’t entirely the Phelps (and Lochte) show.
Katie Ledecky, overshadowed in the media spotlight for the first time since 2012, cruised to a victory in the women’s 400 freestyle with a 4:03.84. She matched Mireia Belmonteof Spain’s world-best time achieved earlier this year.
Ledecky also finished fourth in the 100 freestyle (55.22), an “off” event for the 17-year-old distance phenom. Allison Schmitt won in 54.46.
Amanda Kendall, the 2008-2009 All-Met Swimmer of the Year, finished 12th overall in the ‘B’ final (56.35). Carsten Vissering, 16, swam in the ‘A’ final of the men’s 200 breaststroke and held his sixth seed with a time of 2:20.21.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.