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Phelps qualifies for 100-meter butterfly semifinal; 200-meter IM showdown with Lochte looms

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who turned 31 on Thursday, reflects on two decades in the sport. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun video)

Michael Phelps began his busiest day at the Olympic Trials by finishing third in a fast preliminary heat for the 100-meter butterfly.

Phelps' time of 51.87 seconds was sixth fastest overall and easily put him in the evening semifinals. But he brushed by reporters without commenting on the race.

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The 100 butterfly preliminaries were a mere preamble to the looming final in the 200-meter individual medley. This has been a week for new stars to push their way into the Olympics, but all anyone could talk about Friday was the impending showdown of graybeards — Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

They easily posted the best two times in Thursday evening's semifinals, and both seemed energized by the prospect of going head to head at one last trials.

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"I think it's one of the greatest rivalries in sports, me and him," Lochte said.

The 200 IM is their perfect battleground, a race in which they've competed since 2003. At his first trials in 2004, Lochte finished second to Phelps in the event. Between them, they own the top 10 times in history.

Lochte set the world record in 2011. Phelps has won gold in the 200 IM at three straight Olympics.

"Him and I have gone back and forth a number of times in this race," Phelps said Thursday. "During the big meets, we have great races. … It's gonna be good."

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