So did you hear the story about the time swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte raced Friday night in Charlotte to renew one of the greatest individual rivalries in American sports?
No? Want to guess who won?
Neither one of them.
Lochte and Phelps faced off in the same final in the Arena Pro Swim Series in Charlotte Friday night in the 100 butterfly, long regarded as one of Phelps’ signature events.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
But Phelps was third Friday night at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center. Lochte was a fingertip ahead of his rival, in second. And Tom Shields – a relative unknown compared to Phelps and Lochte but regarded inside the sport as an up-and-comer – won the 100 fly in 52.12 seconds. Lochte swam a 52.52 and Phelps 52.59 in the most highly anticipated event of the meet’s first big night. Queens University star Matthew Josa was fifth in 53.00.
Shields has zero Olympic medals. Phelps and Lochte have won 33 of them combined. Nevertheless, the result wasn’t totally unexpected. Neither Phelps nor Lochte pointed toward this meet, and Shields has beaten both of them before.
Still, Phelps and Lochte wanted to win Friday night, only to be bested by a former collegiate national champion at California who will be a strong threat to make his first Olympic team in 2016.
“I knew that to win would take a pretty good swim,” Shields said. “I had my own plan. I can’t control what Michael does, obviously, so the key to winning that race was being on my game.”
In the other event that Phelps and Lochte overlapped in Friday, they didn’t swim at the same time in the final because Phelps didn’t even make the “A” final with a bad time in the morning preliminaries in the 200 freestyle.
“I thought I was going to go back in retirement after my morning 200 free,” Phelps said jokingly.
Phelps rebounded to win the “B” final of the 200 freestyle to officially finish ninth in the event, while Lochte was fourth overall. Conor Dwyer won.
“In the present moment, it is frustrating and tough at times,” Phelps said. “And I am somebody who still wants to win every race and still wants to be in the middle of the pool (with the fastest qualifiers). I’m sick and tired of being on the outside of the pool or in the B final on outside of the pool – that’s even worse. But I just have to continue taking steps. I think today was a good experience.”
Lochte swam three events Friday night, including a relay. He didn’t win any of them, but he was not unhappy.
“The overall night, I thought, was pretty good,” Lochte said. “It was the first time for me doing three events in one night in a couple of years. And the times were not that bad. I’ll take it for where I’m at right now in my training.”
In other swimming news:
▪ Developer RL West and SwimMAC Carolina officially signed an agreement valued around $4 million Wednesday for the donation of property in the LangTree development in Mooresville. SwimMAC will build an aquatic center on the site that includes a 50-meter competition pool, a training pool and seating for more than 1,500 spectators. The LangTree area is at exit 31 off I-77, about 20 minutes north of Charlotte.
▪ SwimMAC’s Katie Meili won the 100 breaststroke, beating a field that included U.S. Olympians Jessica Hardy and Micah Lawrence.
Meili’s 1:06.50 was the fourth-fastest time in the event this year and her personal best. Meili graduated from Columbia in 2013 and then passed up a job in New York to move to Charlotte and try to improve as a swimmer, often competing with Lawrence (who was third Friday) in the next lane.
“I’ve never been a star at any level,” Meili said. “I want to spread the message, especially to younger swimmers, that even if you aren’t having a lot of success early, you can still do it if you work hard.”
▪ In one of the races that featured the greatest disparity in age among competitors, 31-year-old Kirsty Coventry won the 50 backstroke. Coventry, who has won seven individual gold medals for Zimbabwe, is training at SwimMAC in preparation for the 2016 Olympics. SwimMAC’s Kathleen Baker, 18, finished fourth.
▪ Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, who won multiple events at the 2014 Charlotte meet, picked up right where she left off. Hosszu, possibly the strongest female swimmer in the world, won both the 200 freestyle and the 400 individual medley Friday night.
Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scott_fowler