Fourth-Place Medal

Michael Phelps beats Ryan Lochte again, sets himself up as London favorite

(AP)

Michael Phelps has regained his title as the world's best swimmer; for now. The Olympic legend defeated Ryan Lochte in their third duel in a U.S trials final on Saturday night, narrowly out touching him by .09 seconds in the 200 IM.

It was Phelps' second consecutive victory over Lochte at the trials. Lochte had drawn first blood on Monday night by winning the 400 IM and Phelps returned the favor two nights later with a close victory in the 200 free.

[ Photos: U.S. Olympic swim trials ]

The most recent victory comes in an event that Lochte has dominated since Beijing. He broke Phelps' world record in the event at the world championships in 2009 and then lowered it last year in Shanghai with a blistering swim that was the first record set since rubberized suits were banned in 2010.

Phelps' used strong turns to stay ahead of Lochte and then held off a furious rally in the final 15 meters. Both swimmers were seeded with times nearly two seconds clear of the next-fastest competitor and were more than a body length ahead of the field by the time they made the transition from breaststroke to freestyle. With their Olympic berths assured, what was the motivation to win?

[ Related: Phelps defeats Lochte in 200 ]

For Phelps, it was to send a warning shot to Lochte that he was back to reclaim the throne he abdicated after Beijing. Lochte would have wanted to plant a seed of doubt in Phelps head. For the past three years, Phelps has geared everything towards London. Results were irrelevant; peaking in July 2012 was all that mattered.

He's accomplished that. Phelps has positioned himself once again as the swimmer to beat in London. And Ryan Lochte is back in his role as the man who would be king.

The swimming competition at the 2012 Olympics begins in exactly four weeks. Game on.

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