CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ryan Lochte tossed aside the swimming brief and got down to business Sunday.
Switching to a regular racing suit for the first time in three days of competition, Lochte salvaged an otherwise underwhelming performance this weekend by winning the 200 IM and setting a new meet record at the Charlotte Grand Prix.
Lochte had failed to earn a medal in his other five events wearing a brief, but closed strong by beating Conor Dwyer and Eric Shanteau with a time of 1 minute, 57.63 seconds. It was an encouraging finish for Lochte, who failed to qualify for the finals of the 100-meter freestyle earlier in the day after placing 33rd in the preliminaries.
“It felt good to actually have a decent swim,” he said with a measure of relief.
Lochte’s previous best finish of the weekend was sixth place in the 200 free. He was seventh in the 400 IM and eighth in the 100 backstroke. He failed to qualify for the main heat in the 50 backstroke and pulled out of the finals.
The world record holder in the 200 IM, Lochte began to pull away in the third leg of the race with a strong breaststroke. He was never challenged down the stretch beating Dwyer by nearly two seconds. Dwyer finished in 1:59.29 and Shanteau touched the wall in 2:00.46. Sebastian Rousseau finished a distant fourth.
Lochte said overall he was “disappointed” with his effort at the meet.
“I hate to lose,” Lochte said. “I like winning. I mean it didn’t happen but I had to keep reminding myself this isn’t the big picture. The big picture is the trials and Olympics. I just have to keep focused for that, keep moving forward. People won’t remember this meet. They’ll remember the trials and the Olympics. So even though I wanted to do well at this meet, it doesn’t affect me. I know that it will be there when the time is right.”
Lochte used this meet as a training tool.
He swam six races, four more than his main rival, Michael Phelps. He also wore a brief for his other races, but his coach Greg Troy recommended he switch to a regular suit for the 200 IM — perhaps in an effort to bolster his confidence.
“After my swims this weekend I think coach realized, you know what, you have to have a good one getting out of this meet,” Lochte said. “So I put the suit on and had a decent swim.”
While some swimmers are beginning to taper for the Olympic Trials in June, Lochte said he won’t begin that for another couple of weeks.
Lochte said he was pretty tired coming in and is even more exhausted leaving Charlotte.
He plans to return to Florida this week to continue training, knowing exactly where he needs to improve to capture gold in the London Games.
“I’m going to focus on speed, doing little things like my turns and my starts — just speed,” Lochte said. “Right now I have no speed. I have a lot of endurance and I have a good background right now in my training and it’s time to get ready.”
Phelps, the 14-time Olympic gold medalist, beat Lochte in both events they raced on Friday and Saturday. Phelps came in second in the 200 freestyle and 200 butterfly. He did not participate in any events Sunday.
Charlotte native Ricky Berens, who defeated Phelps and Lochte in the 200 freestyle Friday, captured his second gold medal of the meet Sunday by winning the 100 free in 49.07 seconds.
Although Berens said he felt “sloppy” in the race, he was ultimately pleased with his time, edging out Anthony Ervin (49.61) and Australian Matthew Targett (49.65) for the win while earning a measure of respect — as well as confidence — heading to Omaha next month for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Berens feels his best is yet to come.
“I’m feeling very confident and this is a huge step in the road toward Omaha,” Berens said. “I’m swimming times that are the fastest I’ve swam in a long time and we’re nowhere near our taper, so to be putting up these times is exciting. I’m having fun and racing fast.”
In other men’s events, Ryan Murphy won the 200 backstroke with a time of 1:58.09 and Chad La Tourette captured the 1500 freestyle in a 15:06.73.
The featured women’s race was the 100-meter freestyle and it was an incredibly tight battle with Lia Neal edging Jessica Hardy by one one-hundredth of a second, finishing in 54.35. Natalie Coughlin, an 11-time Olympic medalist who hopes to become the most decorated female swimmer in history this summer at the London Games, finished third at 54.59.
Hardy finished the meet with four medals — two gold and two silver.
In the women’s 200 IM, Caitlin Leverenz defeated Ariana Kukors and established a new meet record with a time of 2:10.25, beating her time in the preliminaries by more than four seconds. Kukors finished in 2:11.09, while Elizabeth Pelton was third at 2:11.87.
Pelton rebounded to win the 200 backstroke in 2:09.41, edging out Stephanie Proud and Dominique Bouchard.
Fifteen-year-old Kathleen Ledecky won the 800 freestyle going away in a meet record time of 8:25.85, the fastest time the world this year. Ledecky pulled away early and was never challenged, beating Gillian Ryan (8:36.56) and Elizabeth Beisel (8:37.40) by more than 10 seconds.