Lochte strikes first in battle with Phelps 

click to enlarge In the lead: Ryan Lochte, pictured, held off Michael Phelps to win the 400 IM on Monday. - AL BELLO/GETTY IMAGES
  • Al Bello/Getty Images
  • In the lead: Ryan Lochte, pictured, held off Michael Phelps to win the 400 IM on Monday.

OMAHA, Neb. — Ryan Lochte reaffirmed his status as the world’s best all-around swimmer when he beat Michael Phelps at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials Monday to book his spot on the American team for London.

Lochte comfortably prevailed in the opening round of his heavyweight clash with Phelps when he won the 400-meter individual medley, slowing down near the end and gliding into the wall in 4 minutes, 7.06 seconds.

Phelps, who had led after the opening butterfly leg but dropped back to third place heading into the final freestyle leg, finished second in 4:07.89, while Tyler Clary, the silver medalist at last year’s world championships in Shanghai, came third in 4:09.92. Only the top two go to the Olympics.

“The first race is always the hardest,” said Lochte, who already has six Olympic medals, including three gold, from his previous two trips to the Games.

“It feels great to be on the team. Now I can take a deep breath and relax. ... I’ve still got so many events left in this meet.”

After winning five gold medals in Shanghai last year to surpass Phelps as swimming’s new standard-bearer, Lochte is expected to swim in at least six events in London.

Phelps won the 400 medley at each of the past two Olympics and holds the world record at 4:03.84, which he set when he won his record eight gold medals in Beijing.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Beisel, the world champion for the 400 individual medley, won her best event in 4:31.74, with Cal’s Caitlin Leverenz (4:34.48) coming in second.

By virtue of the second-place finish, Leverenz will be making her first trip to the Olympics.

Peter Vanderkaay, 28, was the oldest man in the 400 freestyle final but charged through on the final lap to beat his younger rivals and win in 3:47.67, just ahead of Conor Dwyer (3:47.83).

In the morning preliminaries for the women’s 100-meter butterfly, former Cal star Dana Vollmer broke her own American record  in 56.42.

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