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Was it girls? Or was it grills? Swimming odds and ends from Omaha

When Ryan Lochte got done with his 200 meter freestyle last night, a few journalists thought it would be fun to ask what he was going to get his good friend Michael Phelps for his 23rd birthday. Lochte and Phelps are both hip hop aficionados and earlier this week, Lochte wasn't shy about the fact that the release of 'Lil Wayne's new CD was something he'd been looking forward to for awhile. Would he hit his buddy Phelps up with "Tha Carter III?" Or would he go for something more sentimental? The horde of media crammed into the mixed zone -- the roped off area where reporters wait diligently for athletes to stop as they exit the pool -- waited for Lochte's answer.

What happened next was the matter of some dispute this morning.

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Half of us heard Lochte say he was going to get Phelps "a pair of girls."

The other half heard "a pair of grills," the silver or gold fronts that rappers (and Lochte) have been known to wear on their teeth. Lochte wore them on the podium in Melbourne at the 2007 FINA World Championships after winning the 200 meter backstroke, mainly hoping to make Phelps laugh. (He succeeded.)

The USA Swimming media relations people get volunteers to transcribe snippets of interviews and then pass around those transcripts for people who are working on tight deadlines. It's a frustrating reality of newspapers that you only have so much time to write a story after an event before your paper has to go to press, and so an accurate "quote sheet" can be your best friend when you're trying to make the first edition. The person transcribing Lochte's quotes, an unnamed volunteer not affiliated with USA Swimmming, also thought he said "pair of girls." It made sense, seeing as Lochte admitted earlier in the week that the main reason he and Phelps became friends was their shared interest in the ladies. So not only did I think I heard "girls," I had my assumption confirmed when I looked at the transcript.

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We're still not certain who was right, although I'll go to my grave insisting I heard Lochte say "girls." The whole thing is kind of funny either way. Reporters were joking that if it was "girls" then US Weekly and Inside Edition would be dispatching reporters immediately to Omaha to cover the salacious gossip.

Either way, it's always a breath of fresh air when swimmers open up a bit and joke around, showing off some of their personality.

As for what Phelps' mom, Debbie, got him for his birthday?

"Just her being here is enough," Phelps said.

Lochte won't be swimming the 200 meter freestyle tonight, by the way, which deprives us of another amazing showdown between he and Phelps. It's understandable, considering he wants to concentrate on the 100-meter backstroke tonight. Phelps knew all along that his friend was going to drop it (even though he'd be a serious threat to medal in Beijing, considering his times) but the two kept it quiet. They'll face off in the 200 IM final on Friday.

So what did Phelps do for his birthday?

"Eat and rest," he said. "That's it."

Katie Hoff doesn't have a final tonight, but she looked extremely quick in the prelims of the 200 freestyle and the 200 IM this morning. Her freestyle speed is just incredible these days. The name a lot of people have been bringing up this week when talking about Hoff is Shirley Babashoff, who was one of the last American swimmers to have both distance speed and sprinting speed. Babashoff, unfortunately, never really became a household name because she swam against a number of East German women widely suspected of doping. She won silver medals in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

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Hoff's coach, Paul Yetter, said he was slowly getting around to explaining some of Babashoff's accomplishments, but it was hard to find the time with her swimming so many events.

"We talked a little bit about it as we were leaving (Sunday night), but I think both of our eyes were rolling in the back of our heads at that point," said Yetter. "That's the kind of thing where I don't want to just sit her down and give her a lesson. She'll learn more of it as we go through it all. I think she spent a lot of time learning who Tracy Caulkins is. She spent a lot of time as an (individual medley swimmer), so just now she's starting to learn about all the past freestylers."

PHOTO: Getty Images


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