OMAHA, Neb. -- Michael Phelps couldn't stop clapping. His eyes bounced back and forth from the pool down below to the scoreboard up above. With each stroke, he nodded in approval. "I'm telling you!" he roared. "I'm telling you -- it's over!"
When it officially was over and Phelps' teammate Chase Kalisz had won the 400-meter individual medley, which made him the first American to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic swim team, Phelps lifted his arms high above his head and ran down the stadium stairs to give the 22-year-old he considers a little brother a hug. His eyes filled with tears.
"I was fighting 'em back there," Phelps said later. "I just couldn't be any more proud for Chase. He deserves this so much."
As is often the case at Olympic trials, one swimmer's success is another's failure. In the lane next to Kalisz, 31-year-old Ryan Lochte, the reigning trials and Olympic champion in the event, hung his head in disappointment. He was the marquee swimmer many of the 14,000 screaming fans had come to see Sunday night -- the only one in this race with his face plastered all over the doors to the CenturyLink Center. But Lochte pulled his groin during the breaststroke portion of preliminaries earlier in the day, and in Sunday night's final, he failed to hold onto an early lead and finished third behind Kalisz and Jay Litherland. Historically, the top two finishers in each event have always made the U.S. team.
"I did everything I could," Lochte said. "And it just wasn't enough."
Shortly after Kalisz's celebratory news conference, the one in which he confessed that he was the most nervous he had ever been in his life and had struggled to sleep or even nap in the days leading up to the trials, Lochte hobbled in the bowels of the CenturyLink Center, unsure what the rest of his week might look like. He said the injury was painful on all his strokes and even when pushing off the wall. He noted that he had suffered a similar injury a year earlier and was ordered to stay off it for "several days." He won't have such a luxury the rest of the week at trials, where he was scheduled to compete Monday in the men's 200-meter freestyle.
"I just need to see how I feel in the morning," Lochte said and added that he anticipated he would receive a cortisone shot. "Here's the good news: I don't ever have to swim the 400 IM again. That was it -- never again."
Lochte's coach, David Marsh, said after the event that he had worked with Lochte's former coach, Florida's Gregg Troy, to try to slightly alter the swimmer's breaststroke kick to limit how painful it was. But they weren't able to do so in time. Looking back, he said, he regretted not scratching Lochte from the final. Team doctors told Marsh that Lochte won't be able to injure the groin any further at trials, and his performance will instead depend on his pain tolerance.
"He has a tolerance for pain unlike most people," Marsh said.
Lochte, who will turn 32 on Aug. 3, two days before Rio's opening ceremonies, opened eyes this week with his decision to attempt the 400 IM. He hadn't competed in the event internationally since the 2012 London Games but swam a 4:11.98 in January in Austin, the sixth-fastest time in the world. But the event is brutal to train for and typically not for older swimmers. Lochte won the event at age 28 in London and was the oldest gold medalist in the event in history. This year, the average age of the top-five 400 IMers in the world is 23.4 years old. On Friday, Lochte jokingly scoffed at a reporter who suggested he was of an "advanced age."
"Seasoned," Lochte shot back. "Seasoned."
"It's a tough event when you're older," Phelps' coach Bob Bowman said. "You look at someone like Ryan or Michael, they've been doing this for 20 years and probably at a super-high level for 15 years, and there's only so long you can sustain that kind of work."
That's why Phelps retired from the event after London. Bowman talked Phelps into swimming the event in 2012, only to watch Lochte beat him at trials and back it up with a dominating performance in London. On Sunday, Phelps was reduced to the role of spectator, and he was ecstatic with the performance of the kid who used to harass him for autographs, which he would then trade for T-shirts, on the deck of the Meadowbrook Aquatic & Fitness Center pool. Kalisz's winning time of 4:09.54 was the second fastest in the world this year.
For the first time since 2004, the Olympic champion in the 400 IM will not be Phelps or Lochte. Perhaps it will be Kalisz, whose family has long been involved with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. Two of Kalisz's siblings, Connor and Cassidy, are also competing at trials. Kalisz's older sister, Courtney, swam at trials in 2004 and 2008 before an ankle injury cut her career short.
Chase is the first member of the family to make the Olympic team. When he was 8, Kalisz was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome. Doctors put him into a medically induced coma, and he needed a ventilator to breathe for a week. What was once a life-and-death situation has become something Kalisz jokes about.
"Anytime he does something wrong in practice, it's always, 'Well, I was paralyzed as a kid,'" Bowman said.
Kalisz took a year away from the University of Georgia to train with Bowman in Arizona. There, Phelps has spent much of the past year riding Kalisz as hard as he possibly could in practice, criticizing each and every mistake and speaking up anytime he thought Kalisz wasn't giving it all. The criticism got so bad that at one point earlier this year Kalisz complained to Bowman to get Phelps off his case. In time, Kalisz learned that Phelps' motivation was to get Kalisz to reach his full potential.
"He's going to push me like a brother, and he's going to challenge me, and that's what I need," Kalisz said. "Coming from anyone other than Bob or Michael, it's probably going to make me really mad."
Interjected Bowman: "It made him really mad anyway. It was just tolerable because it was us."
On Saturday, Phelps sat Kalisz down and predicted just how the race would unfold: with Lochte getting out to an early lead and Kalisz relying on his strength in the breaststroke to close that lead. That's exactly how it went down.
He also gave Kalisz one other piece of advice: "I told him to get out of his own head and swim his race," Phelps said.
"I wasn't so good at that part," Kalisz said, noting that Sunday was the most nervous he had ever been for a meet.
While those outside the swimming world might see Kalisz's victory as an upset, the reality is anything but. He was the top seed heading into the event, and he won silver at the 2013 world championships and a bronze at worlds last summer. Now comes the goal of winning gold in Rio. The U.S. has won the 400 IM at every Olympics dating back to 1996.
"I don't think tonight's time is representative of what he can do," Bowman said of Kalisz. "He was wound as tight as a drum when he walked out there. I think he's got a couple more seconds in him in the next month, and that's what it's going to take for him to medal."