The first event of the U.S. Olympic swimming trials produced a huge stunner, as Ryan Lochte failed to qualify for the team Sunday night in an event he won at the 2012 London Games.
Lochte raced out to a big lead on the first two legs of the 400-meter individual medley but had nothing left for the breaststroke and freestyle. After the race, Lochte revealed that he pulled a groin muscle during the morning preliminaries and had no choice other than to try to build a commanding lead in the butterfly and backstroke and hope it would hold up.
It didn't. Not even close.
Chase Kalisz won in 4 minutes, 9.541 seconds, while Jay Litherland rallied to take the second spot for Rio in 4:11.021.
Lochte, his legs totally gone, labored home in third at 4:12.021.
"I had to go out faster than usual because I couldn't use my legs in the breaststroke," said the 31-year-old Lochte, who still has several other events to claim his spot on his fourth Olympic team — assuming he can overcome his injury. "I did everything I could in that race, it just wasn't enough. Just got to forget about that and move forward."
While college teammates Kalisz and Litherland celebrated, Lochte hung on a lane rope, totally exhausted. He finally made it over to the side of the pool, struggling just to climb out of the water. He said he get a cortisone shot to help deal with the pain.
"I'm going to keep working on it day in and day out, and hopefully it gets better," Lochte said. "I thought about it this morning, about scratching, but I mean, it's the Olympic trials. If I had a broken leg, I'd still go out there and swim."
Michael Phelps, who won the 400 IM at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, finished fourth behind Lochte in London and dropped the grueling event from his program. With no races on the first day of the meet, Phelps watched from the stands.
"I wasn't surprised with Jay," Phelps said. "He's like a shark in the water. He knows how to rise to the occasion."
Phelps was especially happy for long-time training partner Kalisz, who like Litherland is heading to his first Olympics.
"He's like a brother to me," Phelps said.
Unaware of Lochte's injury, Phelps said he could tell that Lochte had nothing left when he got to the breast. And the two freestyle laps were downright painful to watch, as Lochte closed with a sluggish pace of 1:00.56 — more than 3 seconds slower than the 20-year-old Litherland, who swam with Kalisz at the University of Georgia.
"I know what Ryan felt like in that race," Phelps said, remembering his loss at the 2012 Olympics. "I felt the same thing. It's tough to swim two 400 IMs in one day at that level. We saw that.
"When you overdo it in that first 200, you're not going to have anything left."