It was supposed to serve as the trailer for the featured blockbuster swimming smackdown of the London Olympics, but viewers are going to have to wait a bit: Michael Phelps came in second in the 200-meter freestyle race at the Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix on Friday evening, but not to his expected rival, Ryan Lochte.

Instead, apparently following a different movie script, the hometown hero won, Ricky Berens.

Lochte, pulled in a distant sixth.

The three, swimming in the center of the Mecklenburg County Aquatics Center, drew huge applause at introductions from a full house, drawn to see one of the last major meets in advance of the Olympic qualifying trials at the end of June.

Phelps' training pal at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Allison Schmitt, won the women's 200-free, topping Dana Vollmer and Katie Hoff, who previously trained at NBAC.

Phelps, 26, the Baltimore native training for his fourth and final Olympics, and Lochte, 27, the Florida swimmer coming off of two years as the top U.S. swimmer, are expected to launch the London Games with some dramatic competition. That of course remains to be seen, and the 200-free here, their only head-to-head match-up, failed to live up to the pre-race hype.

The two never quite seem to be in the same phase of their training cycles. Phelps is swimming a light schedule of just two races this weekend, and leaving Sunday to appear at a U.S. Olympic Committee media event in Dallas. And, prior to arriving here, he spent a fair time out of the pool as well, attending a gala where he was given a humanitarian award for his foundation's charitable work, having a video chat with fans hosted by one of his sponsors, Visa, and appearing on the Jimmy Fallon show.

Lochte seems eager to see where he's at, racing-wise, after a somewhat desultory performance in the previous Grand Prix swimming event, in Indianapolis, in March. At that point, he was in the midst of heavy training, and thus not expecting fast racing times. In Charlotte, he faces a monster workload, having registered for nine races although he's  left open the possibility of dropping a few.

And, Phelps dominating the last two Olympics, Lochte tends not to get as much of the spotlight except during in between years --  such as last year, when he beat the Baltimore swimmer in the 200-meter freestyle, and the 200-meter individual medley at the world championships. In Charlotte, Phelps has said that being on the receiving end of a "butt-whipping" by Lochte has helped motivate him as he heads toward London.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com


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