Katie Hoff

Towson's Katie Hoff addresses a news conference before the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Neb. (AP photo / June 27, 2008)

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Michael Phelps actually fell behind Sunday night.

In a race he hadn't lost in years.

But not for long.

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In an electric and fast kickoff to the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Phelps and Florida-based Ryan Lochte fought neck and neck in the 400-meter individual medley for the night's first spot on the Olympic team.

Both shattered world records, confirming what many in the swimming world had suspected leading up to the trials -- that the 910,665-gallon, temporary space-age pool built in Omaha's basketball arena would be as fast a track as American swimmers had ever seen.

Two races after Phelps held off Lochte to lower his own world record, Baltimore-based swimmer Katie Hoff broke a world record in the women's 400 IM. Less than 30 minutes into the meet and two world records had been obliterated.

"Absolutely incredible," said Robert Margalis Jr., who was third, seven seconds behind Phelps and Lochte. "I'm a swim fan, too. That was a fun thing to be a part of."

Phelps, who trains in Ann Arbor with Club Wolverine, is attempting to qualify for the Olympics in eight events this week. His ambitious program is designed to give him a shot at breaking Mark Spitz's Olympic record of seven gold medals.

Phelps, who owned the world record in the 400 IM at 4:06.22, had never had anyone come within even a second in this race. And in the first 100-meter leg, swum in butterfly, it appeared he would cruise again. But halfway through the second 100 meters, swum in backstroke, Lochte began gaining on Phelps. During the breaststroke portion, Lochte caught him and passed him for a few seconds.

But toward the end of that third leg, in what is Phelps' weakest stroke, he found a way to keep Lochte close.

"We were dead-even after 300 meters," Phelps said.

By the time the two swimmers reached the wall for the final turn Phelps caught a glimpse of Lochte as he turned underwater. And he thought to himself: "Whoever stays under the longest is probably going to win."

He also knew that Lochte was hurting as much as he was. And though Lochte was swimming the race of his life, Phelps was not in the mood to lose.

Finally, during the last 50 meters, Phelps began to separate, using his ability to block out pain and his smooth freestyle stroke to pull ahead by a torso. After more than three grueling minutes, Phelps touched the wall almost a full second faster than anyone ever had.

He threw a 4:05.25 on the scoreboard overhead. When he looked up and saw it, he thrashed his fist into the water.

" You saw how emotional I was," he said.

Lochte finished in 4:06.08, which beat Phelps' previous world record and beat his own personal best by three seconds.

Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, who has trained him since he was 11, was elated that his superstar swimmer got such a challenge to start the trials.

"It's always fun to see Michael really dig down and focus," Bowman said.

Also swimming in the 400 IM final were University of Michigan teammates Tyler Clary and Alex Vanderkaay. Clary finished fourth in 4:14.13 and Vanderkaay finished fifth in 4:16.14.

NOTEBOOK: Fellow Club Wolverine swimmers Peter Vanderkaay and Eric Vendt battled for a spot on the team in the 400-meter freestyle. Vanderkaay made the team with a second-place finish, posting a time of 3:43.73. Vendt missed making the team by two-tenths of a second, touching the wall in third at 3:43.92 -- Larsen Jensen won the race in 3:43.53. Jensen broke Vanderkaay's American record of 3:43.82, which was set last month in California.

Two-time Olympian and Club Wolverine member Kaitlin Sandeno, silver medalist at the Athens Games, finished 10th in 400 IM qualifying and didn't advance to the eight-woman final.

Other local swimmers competing Sunday night were Margaret Kelly of U-M and Lakeside Swim Team member Rachel Komisarz, who grew up in Warren. Both swam in semifinal heats of the 100-meter butterfly. Kelly missed the finals while Komisarz made them.