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Ryan Lochte beats Michael Phelps in 200-meter freestyle

Ryan Lochte was faster than Michael Phelps in Tuesday's semifinals. Lochte and Phelps meet again Wednesday night in the finals of the 200-meter freestyle.

By Beth HarrisAssociated Press / June 27, 2012

Ryan Lochte gives a thumbs up after swimming in the men's 200-meter freestyle preliminaries at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Tuesday, June 26, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. Lochte beat Michael Phelps in the semifinals. The two race again Wednesday.

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

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Omaha, Neb.

Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps went stroke for stroke into the wall in the 200-meter freestyle. Lochte's hand got there first, with Phelps touching second on Tuesday.

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Imagine what Wednesday night's final will be like.

The world's top two swimmers met up in the same semifinal Tuesday night, with Lochte winning in 1 minute, 46.25 seconds. Phelps was just behind at 1:47.27, setting up another memorable confrontation in the final.

"It's going to be a tough race tomorrow," Phelps said. "It's probably going to be another close one like that."

IN PICTURES: Team USA Olympics hopefuls

Phelps will be looking to win for the first time at the U.S. Olympic trials. He got beat by Lochte in the 400 individual medley on Monday, then got edged out again in the semis.

Phelps is the ultimate competitor, hating to lose even the smallest contest. But he knows what's really at stake in Omaha.

"It's about getting spots on the team, that's the only thing," he said. "The most important thing for me is to try and secure a spot, and from here I have 3 to 4 weeks to prepare myself and get some extra training in there. I think it's going to be a lot better than what it is here."

Lochte agreed nothing truly matters until the final.

"We're great racers, we just want to win," he said. "We definitely kicked it in gear the last 50, me and him. We know tomorrow night is going to be a lot faster."

There promises to be plenty of speed in the women's 100 backstroke final.

Seventeen-year-old Missy Franklin was the top qualifier in the semifinals. Her time of 59.06 seconds was less than a second off Gemma Spofforth's world record. Teenagers claimed the next three fastest times, as well: 18-year-old Rachel Bootsma, 17-year-old Olivia Smoliga, and 18-year-old Elizabeth Pelton.

"I love where I'm at right now," said Franklin, the breakout star at last year's world championships and one of the top American hopes for London. "I feel strong, I feel powerful. It's so awesome to feel this way and I'm having a blast. This is what I came here to do."

Natalie Coughlin finds herself in the unexpected role of underdog in her signature event. The two-time defending Olympic champion barely qualified for the final with the seventh-fastest time of 1:00.63. That race came after Coughlin finished seventh in the 100 fly final.

"I was hoping to have a better 100 fly than I did, but you pay for it when you go out too hard like I did," Coughlin said. "After that, I just refocused on the 100 backstroke, knowing all that matters is I get a lane for tomorrow night. We'll see what happens. That's all I can do right now."

Coughlin won't have another event before the 100 back final, like she did Tuesday. She scratched the 200 individual medley, so if she doesn't qualify for London in the backstroke, her only realistic chance left to make the team will be the 100 freestyle.

"Having the morning off to rest and recover and go into that 100 back as fresh as possible will be really important for me," she said.

Olympic champion Rebecca Soni used her patented finishing kick to qualify fastest for the 100 breaststroke final in 1:05.88, more than a second ahead of world-record holder Jessica Hardy, who was second in 1:06.88.

"I always hold on to that last few yards as my strength," Soni said. "I'm always waiting to kick it into gear. I don't want to do it too early, but it felt good coming home, and I'm looking forward to having that same speed closing tomorrow."

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