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Chase Kalisz surprises Ryan Lochte in 400 IM at Olympic trials

Chase Kalisz surprises Ryan Lochte in 400 IM at Olympic trials
Chase Kalisz, left, with Ryan Lochte after Kalisz won the men's 400-meter individual medley final at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha. (Orlin Wagner / Associated Press)

The roar from the sellout crowd at CenturyLink Center had finally abated, but a stunned expression lingered on Chase Kalisz's face.

For a moment, the 22-year-old looked as though he didn't quite believe what happened Sunday during the first day of the U.S. Olympic swimming trials. He wasn't the only one.

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Kalisz rallied to swim past defending Olympic champion Ryan Lochte — hampered by a groin injury — and win the 400-meter individual medley to earn a spot in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

"The whole thing went by so fast," Kalisz said. "I feel like I'm in a different reality."

He grew up in the Baltimore area, sometimes pestering Michael Phelps by repeatedly spinning the decorative rims on his Cadillac Escalade before North Baltimore Aquatic Club practices. Phelps retaliated by setting off the car alarm.

The youngster and the most decorated Olympian of all time joke about the long-ago interactions. These days they consider each other brothers. Kalisz redshirted the past season at the University of Georgia to train with Phelps at Arizona State. Phelps pushes his protege —  perhaps too much at times —  because the veteran understands what he can do.

"When Michael gets on you, it's pretty severe, right?" said Bob Bowman, who coaches both swimmers. "And it's kind of nonstop for a while.… It's like a nuclear bomb got dropped on your head for about 2 1/2  minutes."

Phelps watched Sunday's race while wedged into the NBC broadcast booth. After Kalisz finished in 4 minutes 9.54 seconds and whipped the crowd into an ear-burning frenzy, Phelps was on his feet with his mouth agape in shock and celebration as if to say, "Did you see that?"

Jay Litherland, another Georgia swimmer, finished second in 4:11.02.

Kalisz's mark is still almost six seconds off the world record Phelps set in the event during the Beijing Olympics.

"The kid works his butt off," Phelps said. "I'm very hard on him.… I just see the potential and want him to be the best he can be."

Kalisz clocked the fastest preliminary time Sunday, but Lochte entered the final as a popular choice to win. He drew the loudest cheers by far as he strode to the starting blocks — the main attraction on a day when meet headliners Phelps, Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky weren't competing.

Lochte is responsible for five of the world's 10 fastest swims in the race. Though he was nine years older than any of the seven other competitors in the final, he seemed to have the same kind of surge in him that helped capture gold in London.

But Lochte couldn't overcome his body. He  injured his groin during the breaststroke leg of the preliminary heat and contemplated withdrawing from the final.

"It's the Olympic trials," Lochte said. "If I had a broken leg, I'd still go out there and swim."

He led for the first 200 meters, but Kalisz cut the gap during the breaststroke leg and pulled away for good during freestyle on the fourth leg.

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Litherland passed Lochte on the final leg too.

"I did everything I could in that race," Lochte said.

Also on Sunday, Connor Jaeger and Conor Dwyer, who trains in Los Angeles, finished 1-2 in the 400-meter freestyle to earn spots on the Olympic team.

Midway through the race, Jaeger figured he was out of contention, but kept telling himself not to give up.

"The past eight months I struggled really hard," he said. "I went into this really optimistic, but I had no idea how this would end."

In the other final, Maya DiRado, who plans to retire from swimming after the Olympics, won the 400 IM. Elizabeth Beisel, who won silver in the event in London, placed second.

"I mean, it felt like a dream," DiRado said.

But the arena buzzed about Kalisz's accomplishment.

"I'm just a little speechless, which doesn't happen often," said Jack Bauerle, his coach at Georgia.

Phelps hugged Kalisz after the race and even shed a few tears.

"Michael told me how proud he was of me and and that meant a lot.… Hearing those words from him was the approval that I've been looking for," Kalisz said.

After the first round of media interviews, Bowman found his pupil.

"Hey!" the coach said while embracing Kalisz. "I'm so proud of you."

Bowman added: "You can relax in a couple of days."

Twitter: @nathanfenno

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